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Make a mistake in your tax return or forget to pay your VAT on time and you could end up paying through the nose for it. But as Barbara Panvel observes there's one group of people who make costly errors which are never punished. Now who might that be?

Our government's rowdy behaviour at Prime Minister's Question Time contrasts strongly with the standards of conduct it requires from the public.

Far more serious, however, is its astounding record of inefficiency - which costs the taxpayer dearly . It is never penalised for this [except by the EU].

Despite its own failings it demands better from those it is elected to serve than it delivers in its own right: we have to pay rates, utility bills, complete income tax returns, and fill in long and vaguely phrased forms for other purposes promptly, or suffer serious financial and legal penalties.

Government or its arms length management teams are responsible for mismanagement in almost every area of life. DEFRA failed to pay millions to contractors for work done four years ago during the foot and mouth crisis and it also failed to administer the single farm payments on time, causing many farmers to go into debt to cover the shortfall.

The government's public sector IT projects have suffered from delays, flawed software and cost overruns in the Child Support Agency, the NHS, the Department of Work & Pensions, the Post Office, the DSS, the Passport Office, The Inland Revenue, the National Probation Service, Job-Centre Plus, and the Swanwick air traffic control centre.

Yet more than one of the companies responsible have been awarded further contracts.

An American firm responsible for many failures has now been awarded another large contract by the MoD - battlefield communications being one of the areas of responsibility. How will future projects - ID cards and road pricing - fare?

Government has persisted with privatisation and PFI ventures, though, as a professor of health policy atUniversity College London has said: “There is no evidence that introducing private companies increases the efficiency or quality or reduces costs. Indeed all the evidence goes the other way”.

The NHS is deteriorating, with the lowest number of doctors per head in Europe, hospital bed shortages, overlong queues for scanning, rising incidences of MRSA(now killing 5000 a year), trained staff taken away from the poorest countries and very few NHS dentists in many parts of the country.

As class sizes rise and rude and violent pupil behaviour increases, a growing number of parents are opting to have children taught at home. There are fears that exam standards are being lowered, pass scores of 15% in one GCSE maths paper being reported in 2004.

Students with D & E grades are now being admitted to university - in a few cases those who had completely failed in all subjects were offered places. Foreign students who pay much higher fees are courted - British students being described by an Oxford spokesperson as “a loss-making venture”.

Public transport is performing badly. Delays and cancellations are suffered by rail passengers who are paying high fares. There are lower standards of maintenance and inspection since privatisation and the parties involved are unwilling to admit responsibility for accidents.

Bus travel is expensive, unpleasant and unreliable in most urban areas and some rural areas have no public transport at all.

The postal service has become less reliable and much more expensive. The government's removal of traditional business from post offices has been followed by the closure of many.

People who phone government departments, many being disabled, elderly or unemployed, are compelled to spend a lot of time and money waiting for a reply - at the mercy of the new call centre systems.

The Ombudsman found that the government had misled employees about the reliability of company pensions.

Thousands of illegal immigrants manage to come into the country whilst genuine family visitors from other countries and people invited to conferences in this country are rigorously questioned and sometimes sent back on the next plane.

Legal action can now be afforded only by the rich and the very poor who can get legal aid. British businessmen are sent for trial in USA for alleged crimes committed in Britain, but British men who alleged that they were tortured in Saudi Arabian jails were denied the right to sue as the Saudis, who - with the UK government's backing - were able to claim immunity for their officials.

Robbery is increasing, harmless debtors and fraudsters are imprisoned but violent people are sent to open prisons, from which an increasing number abscond. In jails, drugs are widely available and many inmates emerge 'skilled only in tougher sorts of crime'.

Those who protest or reveal these failings are not treated well. Walter Wolfgang was manhandled out of a Labour Party conference for shouting the word ‘nonsense' and whistleblowers - despite a new law offering them protection - have a hard time.

These brave people have disclosed British army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, Home Office problems, Uzbekistan's poor human rights record, improper use of European social fund grants, failings in the asylum and immigration service, fears about radiation from nuclear installations, abuse of Iraqis after occupation, unlawful council aid to a nuclear power station, information about the honours system, unacceptable MI6 activities and evidence casting doubt on the justification of the second invasion of Iraq.

Time for change - it is hard to imagine the government's successor doing worse!

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