Incentizen: incentivising the citizen
by Derek Wyatt
I subscribe to the 80:20 society. You know 80% of us pay our taxes whilst 20% either employ tax avoiding accountants or don’t work and have no intention of working. We pour policies and £millions at the 20% and hardly acknowledge the silent majority or now, the squeezed middle. Why is this?
Everywhere I shop I am treated as a citizen who needs a small reward to make me want to keep coming back. It started with Green Shield stamps when I was a boy and continues today under several guises. A quick deck into my wallet and I find Nectar, Coop, Tesco, BA, Virgin, BMI and Qatar airlines cards and then others one from Odeon Cinemas and Marriott and Fairmont hotels. And even my credit card also gives points away which I can cash at any number of outlets.
Take air miles: BA has Upper (gold), Middle (silver) and Lower (blue collar) class executive cards as does nearly every other airline. Every time I fly BA tries to persuade me to keep using them as my “miles” add up and if I am lucky enough one day in the next forty years I might just be able to fly to New York for free. But free with BA still means not being able to book any flight which is convenient to you and moreover booking months in advance and then still having to fork out for fuel surcharges, government taxes and extra credit cards additions which frankly make it much easier just to fly with Easy Jet or Flybe. So air miles may have had their day or need re-booting.
Take supermarket cards: they were never aimed at you, they were a clever ruse to tell the logistics team what your weekly spend was. They were a tribute to what Dan Ariely
has written about so brilliantly in his book - Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions. Besides, like Green Shield stamps your points are pretty worthless and at best give you £5 here and £5 there off your shopping unless you are a frequent flyer shopper with a large family. In which case, you’re more likely to be shopping at Lidl or Poundsaver. So maybe they also need a redesign.
On top of these cards is a new-ish kind of paid up-front membership card offer which gives you exclusivity. This might be, as a for instance, attending the opening of an exhibition or premiere before the riff-raff are allowed in as happens at The Tate, the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery and the Curzon group of cinemas. From these have come the intellectual viagra virtual clubs like TED, Intelligence Squared and Editorial Intelligence. Maybe added value is the new card; maybe it’s just another take on BA’s Gold Card.
Though it is not a perfect market, the fact is one way or another we have been gradually hooked into what Chris Anderson reflects on in his book: Free – The Future of Radical Price. We like the cardosphere. We like the offers even if they don’t quite match up to what it should say on the tin.
Thus, I began to think about the 80% of us who do our duty as good citizens but see our taxes wasted. One week it is £13 billion (quite few new hospitals gone begging here) on an NHS computer system which has failed and another week it is £600m on a failed Fire Brigade call centre service (which even the Fire Brigade said it wouldn’t work but we failed to listen to them).
If you read any of David Craig’s books like Squandered or Plundering the Public Sector or Matthew Elliott & Lee Rotherham’s The Bumper Book of Government Waste you will quickly see that the amount wasted by governments over the past 15-20 years is more than the current deficit which we have inherited from a broken global banking system in the City. And yet neither the Secretary of States, nor their Permanent Secretaries, nor the Boards of any of our banks have ever been held personally responsible for these appalling mistakes. Is their behaviour any different than that of our city looters?
Ed Miliband rightly says we must refashion our society.
Well for starters let’s do two things then let’s first introduce Executive Boards at every level of the public sector including the whole of Whitehall and make them ultimately responsible for any over spends. Let’s apply that too to our major banks. It chimes: it’s called freedom with responsibility.
Secondly, let’s introduce a citizen-card. It would work like this: you pay your taxes early you receive 250 points on your card; you vote in every election over a five yearly cycle you receive 500; you keep a clean licence 50 p.a; you don’t have a criminal record 1000 p.a; you don’t go the doctors 250; you get the drift. If you’ve been a goodly citizen, the state rewards you. You never know it might catch on.
Derek Wyatt was a Labour MP for Sittingbourne & Sheppey 1997-2010