Matters of the moment

A Swansea saga, or the case of the forgotten Sevens

To be viable, a tax must not cost more to collect than the turnover it represents. The price of the vast Swansea Motor Tax Computer Centre, quoted as £400-million, is a mere flea-bite against motor-tax collected, which in 1975-76 ran at the astronomical figure of £2,944-million and in 1976-77 is estimated as likely to rise to £3,465-million (figures by courtesy of the British Road Federation). Of course, Swansea involves overheads and is apparently under-staffed because out-stations have been opened for the filing of discarded Log Books. There is also the costly anomaly of local motor-taxation offices which are still employing salaried staff, who can do little work because they are unable to issue vehicle licences against the new-style Log Books! All this represents a drain on the revenue which motor vehicle users are reluctantly obliged to provide. What do they receive in return? For a start, not the short-term licences promised as soon as Swansea was fully operational! Not any advantage from the new Vehicle Registration documents, which contain restricted information, not always accurate at that. And there is the great timeand petrol-wasting inconvenience of not being able to tax your vehicle locally (see above)—to quote a single instance, in one country-town a journey of some 80 miles is involved, because since Swansea swung into operation the once-efficient Motor Tax Office in that town has been virtually hand-cuffed—although still a drag on public expenditure.

How efficient is the great Swansea Computer Complex? Let the following act as a pointer. When the last Budget raised vehicle tax from £40 to £50 a year we wanted to ascertain whether the rebate applying to pre-1947 cars, of 7-h.p. or less under the former horsepower tax rating, had been scrubbed. This interests only a handful of MOTOR SPORT readers, only some 7,000 cars being taxed thus in 1975 (figure by courtesy of the British Road Federation). But with the savage rise in motor taxation, not overlooking the equally-savage petrol tax, which had risen from the equivalent of just over 16p a gallon in 1965 to 38.6p by 1975, any rebate is worth claiming. So we first asked the aforesaid local motor tax office. "All private cars are taxed at £50 a year", they replied. Pressed, forms were consulted, and, clearly puzzled, we were told the 7-h.p. rebate still applies. Better check with Swansea, we thought. A fortnight later we received a postcard from the Director, saying our letter was "receiving attention". Nothing happened for more than a month. So we telephoned. It transpired that our letter had been sent to the D of E in London and had been lost! We repeated the queries. A few days later we received a 'phone call, telling us that the long-standing rebate for pre-1947 6- and 7-h.p. RAC-rated cars is still in force.

How did this astonishing concession—astonishing because, even in 1947, when the h.p. tax was changed to one based on cylinder capacity, it applied only to such rarities as Fiat Topolinos, Peugeot 7/12s, Jowett twins, the earliest DKWs and a handful of others not to the then prolific Austin 7s, Ford 8s, Morris Minors and the like, these (workers?) baby-cars all being rated as 8 or more h.p.—come about, we asked? The answer, we were told, is probably buried for all time under the weight of Parliamentary procedure. (William Plowden's "The Motor Car and Politics" ignores the matter.) More important, how, we then enquired, do those whose present cars are eligible for the rebate, claim it, as the new Log Books omit details of bore and number of cylinders, on which RAC h.p. is based? That poses a problem, we were told, but it would be looked into. We are still waiting for an explanation. Could it be that the Swansea-planners overlooked the forgotten Sevens?

Be that as it may, if you are one of a minority who has a car, perhaps a veteran, of 7 or less h.p., you qualify for a legitimate tax rebate of £14 a year. The VMCC may know that a similar concession applies to pre-1933 lightweight motorcycles of over 250 c.c. (up to 245 lb.). These are known to the Tax Office rather delightfully as "Bicycle Preferential". So he sure to claim your dues—a lady who recently taxed her Jowett was charged the full rate, but eventually received a rebate. It is bureaucratic muddles of this kind, multiplied a thousand-fold, which bogs the country down. The Queen's Jubilee is proving enormously successful. Perhaps just what the British people need, to inspire them with renewed pride and assist them to march towards National recovery and stability. Bureaucratic red-tape must not strangle future prosperity for this strong little country. But what of all vehicle records and licence-issuing being in Wales, the Post Office Savings Bank situated in Scotland, with devolution in the wind?