NUMBER ONE, PENSION SERVICE: My mother is resident in a council-run retirement home. Seeing as State Pensions increased in April the council wants to know by how much my mother’s pension has gone up so they can re-calculate her payments. Fair enough. Problem being that despite the fact that everyone should have been informed by the Pension Service of their increase by the end of March, my mother has received nothing.
So last week I went on the internet, put in the correct post code, and came up with the details for the Swansea office of the Pensions Service. Using my dainty and impeccably manicured digit I telephoned the number given. Eventually I reached a live, unrecorded, human being, to whom I explained my predicament. After repeating that all notifications had been sent out long ago the woman on the other end of the line finally accepted that my mother had not received hers, and that this was why I was ringing.
In the hope of being helpful I suggested that she tell me the the address to which the notification would be sent in order for me to confirm that it was correct. She: “Oh, can’t do that”. Me: “But if you sent the original notification to the wrong address then you’re going to repeat the mistake”. Silence. Me: “Why can’t you tell me the address – I’m her son, for God’s sake!” She: “I’ll have to put you on to the supervisor”. (I felt like saying that had no desire to mount her supervisor, but I bit my tongue.) From the supervisor I got the same metronomic response. Which I could have understood if I’d been asking MI6 for the names of their operatives in Dushanbe . . . but I was asking these bloody women to give me the address of a retirement home in Gwynedd!
I’ve just phoned the Pension Service again. To be told that “it takes seven to ten working days”. Why should it take that long to do something that should have been done properly by the end of bloody March! And another thing. Although the telephone number given on the web page suggested I would be put through to the Swansea office, the three women I spoke with (two last week and one today) all had north west English accents, making it very unlikely that they are based in the City of the Blest.
NUMBER TWO, WELSH EUROPEAN FUNDING OFFICE: About thirteen years ago I allowed myself to be talked into raising money for a new community centre in the village. After a few false starts, and once I was allowed free rein, I got into my stride and raised the necessary lucre. The major funder was the Welsh European Funding Office. Which, if nothing else, proves that some EU funding is well spent. For our now self-funding community centre provides jobs, facilities and amenities for the community seven days a week. Anyway, last month, out of the blue, came a letter from WEFO’s Aberystwyth office saying that they wanted to call and check on how the money had been spent.
The meeting went ahead last week. Fortunately, I had kept all the paperwork they needed and was able to answer the questions. (I managed to steer the inquisitor away from my six-week fact-finding mission to Tahiti.) I was not surprised to learn that this visit should have been made in 2009 or 2010, rather than eight years after the building had opened. The meeting ended with the WEFO official giving me an e-mail address to which I would send copies of invoices and other documents requested. Which I did . . . but they didn’t get through, because the WEFO Internet system does not accept e-mails with attachments.
Or perhaps not from unverified sources, which I could understand. But if so, then it should be possible for a member of WEFO’s staff to contact their IT department and say, ‘Let this one through, please, I’m waiting for this information’. How hard can it be? Anyway, once we’d realised what the problem was WEFO sent me an envelope, with two first class stamps. Then I had to print out the various bits of paperwork, put them in the envelope. and mail the envelope. Money and time wasted, unnecessary delay, me frustrated, and all so bloody avoidable.
How can WEFO, or any organisation, operate at anything approaching maximum efficiency when people like me cannot e-mail the information WEFO itself is asking for! No wonder they’re years behind with their work. And perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we ‘qualify’ for a third round of EU Structural Funds.
NUMBER THREE, STATS WALES: Earlier this week I went to the StatsWales website looking for the numbers of English born living in Wales, by local authority area, from the 2011 census. Once into the site, I went to the publications under ‘Population’, but nowhere could I find the information I wanted; even though the section was able to offer bed-time reading like, ‘Child poverty dental indicators by year‘ and ‘European Union harmonised unemployment rates by gender, area and year‘, plus the absolutely riveting, ‘Smoke detectors and other fire detection equipment in dwellings by year and Fire and Rescue Service area‘. The section contained many reports covering ‘gender’ and ‘ethnicity’, such as ‘Ethnicity of staff by Fire and Rescue Service‘.
Today I got my reply (see panel). Now, in fairness, I knew that this information was available on the Office of National Statistics website, and has been for a few months, but that’s not the point. These are important figures relating to Wales, so I have every right to expect to find them on a website devoted to Welsh statistics.
Given the data available on the site, the obvious obsession with race and gender, my guess would be that this site is maintained by someone more concerned with observing political correctness than with providing information. And given the absence of the figures I wanted, maybe no friend of the Welsh. Then again, perhaps it was a political decision not to offer these damning and alarming figures.
Though, surely, if there are figures to tell us how many Afro-Caribbeans, women and other groups are employed by the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service then it must be possible to tell us how many English are employed, and in what ranks? And how many of the top civil servants in Wales are English? Senior police officers . . . academics . . . doctors and other medical staff . . . senior officers in local government, BBC, etc., etc. Could it be that StatsWales is a bit like our media and our politicians, treating us as mushrooms? Keeping us in the dark by withholding the really damning stuff that would lay bare colonial Wales, while feeding us regular dollops of shit in the form of what they deem it safe to tell us.