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Troubled by two words

I have been wading through the plethora of recently released government consultation documents and there are two words that I have found particularly annoying and, seemingly, overused

Ian     Holloway
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Ian     Holloway
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I have been wading through the plethora of recently released government consultation documents in the last week or so, as I am sure many other people have. While these are an interesting read and an essential one for any UK professional, there are two words that I have found particularly annoying and, seemingly, overused.

 

So, during a bit of ‘me time’, I thought I would do some research and see whether the use of these words was justified:

 

Customers

 

This word is used most frequently by HMRC, which uses it to describe the people that are affected by anything it does. For example, a recent consultation talked about how HMRC planned to transform its tax administration services “based around our customers”. This was the same consultation that referred to HMRC’s “customers” over 170 times in a 38-page document.

 

But what actually is a customer? A common definition of a customer is someone who buys goods or services from a supplier. Looking more closely, a customer is one that creates the demand for these goods and services and, as a result, influences completion so rival suppliers can attract the largest customer base.

 

Does any of this apply to our dealings with government and HMRC? We have no choice but to deal with them as, quite simply, there is nowhere else to go. They have a monopoly of goods and services and we certainly don’t choose to ‘buy’ anything from them as there is nothing else on offer.

 

Therefore, I believe it is quite incorrect to call us customers. Isn’t it more correct to call us consumers?

 

Stakeholder

 

This word is used to express the fact that government has or is engaging with people they think are relevant. Or, it could be that they are just choosing to engage with people/organisations that have previously engaged with them in a number of ways, such as meetings or written responses.

 

But what actually is a stakeholder? One definition that I saw said a stakeholder is anyone that has an interest in or could be affected by an organisation or another organisation’s actions. For example, an employee is a stakeholder in their own company because what happens at that company does affect them. Similarly, employers themselves are stakeholders, as what happens to the employee matters to them. That is why employers and legislation mentions phrases like “duty of care”, recognising that attention needs to be paid to the fact that stakeholders are important and need to be respected.

 

So, I believe the government is correct in using the term stakeholder. Whatever it does has an impact on people and it is right that it engages with people and tells them what it plans to do before it actually does it (mostly). Similarly, it is important that government realises that we, the UK payroll profession, regard them as stakeholders too.

 

Although…

 

One of the interesting comments I saw in my research was “not all stakeholders are equal”. This was using the example of an employer who has both clients and employees as stakeholders, where the employer has different obligations to both (with, possibly, the client taking priority over the employee). I think the fact that not all stakeholders might not be equal is played out quite openly by government who seem to have a preferred list of stakeholders they engage with – just look at any consultation responses document to see the same names appearing time and again. Is this the fault of the government? Absolutely not. It is the fault of the rest of us who do not engage, don’t recognise that we are stakeholders and don’t make our opinions known.

 

A good example of this is in one current consultation that says: “HM Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs invited contributions from a wide range of stakeholders”. Yes, they may have made a consultation open to a wide range of stakeholders but did this wide range actually make contributions? Probably not.

 

The lesson – we are stakeholders and if government says it wants our opinion then we have a duty to give it. Being a stakeholder is not a one-way street and if we don’t contribute when government asks for our opinions then we only have ourselves to blame when things don’t go as we wanted. Think of it like many people do when considering whether to vote in an election.

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