Cameron the car czar

David Cameron is, it seems, to take the lead in tightening the rules for insurance claims – particularly those relating to whiplash which now account for 1,500 claims a day, cost the industry £2 billion per year and the average motorist £90 per year in higher premiums.

That there is a problem is clear – claims are increasing even as accidents are falling – but does this really require the personal intervention of the Prime Minister?  Has he no other more important things to worry about?

This reminds me of a report from Russia last year on how things very often simply didn’t happen unless Putin took a personal interest.  The story focussed on a remote village that was burnt down when severe drought caused forest fires to burn out of control; somehow Putin got involved, kicked butt and made things happen rebuilding-wise.  Which was great for the village concerned and made for great PR for Putin-the-saviour but did nothing for the scores of other communities similarly affected.

That Putin runs Russia in the style of the czars is perhaps understandable (although it’s not going down too well with educated younger Russians).  But Cameron?  Does he really think this managment strategy has a cat-in-hell’s chance of working in a country and economy as complex as Britain’s?  Surely not.  And if he does, we are in even worse trouble than I thought.

£2 billion overall, £90 per motorist is a HUGE amount of money – does a problem really have to be this big before it gets sorted rather than just festering?  As it happens motor insurance provides another instance of a situation that needs intervention; uninsured drivers.  They cost each motorist an average of £30 per year (this figure from memory).  Goodness knows what the extra cost to the taxpayer is for medical bills and the like.  I once sat in (as an observer) on a magistrates court where an 18 year old was charged with driving without insurance.  He had been driving his friend’s father’s car with permission but everyone involved simply forgot that he wasn’t a named driver and for this dastardly act they threw the book at him.

And yet there is a perfectly good solution to this problem.  Some countries require every car on the road to have compulsory third party insurance that covers all drivers (even thieves and drunks).   It is evidenced by an ‘insurance disk’ like the tax disk which comes with every motor insurance policy.  Every policeman and traffic warden can enforce it and not having one is an instant towing offence.  The proportion of uninsured cars on the road?  Approximately 0.001%.

So there are better ways of doing things which we can copy from elsewhere or invent ourselves but it doesn’t seem to be happening – at least not on anything like the required scale – and that is a problem.  Unnecessarily expensive car insurance we could live with if that were the only problem.  But, of course, it isn’t.

Power should be devolved to junior ministers and their civil servants (and where appropriate to local government) and with it should go the expectation that the devolved power will be properly and wisely used – or else!  What we actually have is system where middle level executives (and this now apparently extends to junior ministers) are so snared in a complex web of targets handed down form on high that they can no longer take the initiative unless the boss takes an interest.


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