March 16 2011


One of my bugbears is the poor or non-existent customer service from large organisations.

The latest example of this happened with my Tesco Credit Card. The Credit Card is run by the Royal Bank of Scotland and in their wisdom every now and then they put a stop on my card and write to me on the pretext that they are carrying out a fraud check.


It is inconvenient when this happens as I have to find other ways of paying bills. It is also very time consuming to have to sort out the problem. The bank asks me to phone them, to go through their automated system to type in the details of my card and to select several options. I then finally speak to their representative who then asks me the same set of questions again ‘for fraud purposes’. The representative then goes through the list of purchases which my wife and I have made recently and asks whether we made them or not.


At the weekend, this happened and when I went to use my card the following day in Formby, the card was declined. This was embarrassing as I could feel the staff and customers looking at me with disgust, either for delaying them or for trying to use a card fraudulently. In the end I had to pay with a different card.


Lucky for me, I have a debit card as well as my credit card. So I rang the bank again and went through their system again. This time, I was cut off so had to start again. Finally a supervisor insisted on going through the same list of purchases which my wife and I had made and denied that I had made the call the previous day.


I am sure that I am not the only person in Sefton Central who has had this experience, so please write to me if you have had bad service as I would like to push big business to treat customers as people and not just as an inconvenient means of making money. Maybe embarrassing them with stories of bad service will make a difference.


As a footnote to the story about Jennifer Currie’s escape from Libya with her young children, the attitude of Virgin Trains and Delta Taxis was in marked contrast to my experience of The Royal Bank of Scotland. Virgin and Delta could not have been more helpful in getting Jennifer home to Thornton and neither asked for publicity. Maybe the banks could learn from this approach to service.


Maybe if the chancellor, George Osborne brought in a 50% tax on bankers' bonuses along with rules to stop tax avoidance by Vodafone, Top Shop and Boots, then they might have to pay more attention to their customers.


Yes, it's time for the budget and it's not too late for the government to target the banks and large corporations who are avoiding paying their fair share while the rest of us face the biggest ever cuts in services and jobs. Maybe the chancellor will reconsider the scale and speed of the cuts and will reverse the hike in VAT and fuel duty which has hit people and small businesses hard in Sefton.


People ask me what I would do differently from the government. Well I would have a tax on bankers' bonuses, collect taxes from the big companies and cancel the VAT rise and I would put the money back into local councils so that our youth clubs, children’s centres, student travel passes and education maintenance allowances were protected.  I would also cancel the massive rise in student fees and keep the day centres open for our disabled and vulnerable elderly in Sefton. And I would keep the 800 police and 600 community support officers in Merseyside who are under threat from the cuts. That would help stimulate the economy, help the private sector grow and create the jobs we need.


When the private sector is strong again, then we can look at savings in the public sector but only when there are alternative jobs and when we can be sure that services to the most vulnerable will be protected. That would be my budget, a budget to grow the economy, a budget for jobs and a budget to protect the vulnerable.


And by growing the economy and keeping people in work, we will be paying off the deficit at the same time as more people in work means more people paying taxes. Unless we keep people in work and stimulate the economy, many thousands of people will be unemployed and we will have to pay them benefits for not working.  It is also easier to find people jobs if they are already working than if they are unemployed.


I have met three constituents recently who have told me how the benefits system makes it very hard for them to find work as they have to go on courses which stop them finding decent jobs and they are not allowed to learn new skills which employers are interested in.


The question is, will the chancellor present a budget for jobs, for growth and in support of the vulnerable? So far he has cut fast and deep and has pushed us back into recession. I hope he will have a change of heart and produce a budget for recovery not more doom and gloom.


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