Page 5: Supporting SMEs
A recent survey showed that customers want a single point of contact and not to be passed from 'pillar to post' or one enquiry desk in one department to another desk in another department. Similarly they want efficient services that are easy to use and that respond to their own needs and requirements. As part of this process they do not want to be inundated with paper trails or constant changes in regulations and requirements.
Providing reliable and high quality services that help SMEs to meet both their obligations and deal with their concerns is essential to the VAT collection process. Although the situation is inverse in that consumers are taxpayers, they are the natural resource upon which the financing of public services depends.
The dialogue, services and relationships developed between HM Customs & Excise and its VAT payers therefore help to ensure that taxation services are efficiently delivered at the lowest cost for the department and with low costs for businesses.
For example, as part of the HM Customs and Excise service delivery agreement, the department is:
- actively looking for measures that help businesses to get their indirect tax returns right the first time
- increasing its contacts with business organisations
- modernising and improving consumer services using information technology, so that by the end of 2005, 100% of all external services will be available electronically (and there will be a 'make-up' of at least 50%)
- working with the Inland Revenue for the common delivery of VAT and self assessment tax payer services through a single gateway working with the Inland Revenue to research into establishing the costs of collecting and dealing with taxation, and then how these might be reduced
- seeking to improve customer satisfaction with improvements in a range of customer services
- providing businesses and Government with the information they need to improve competitiveness and economic policy through the development of a customer focused trade information service.
The Small Business Service, an agency of the UK government is offered through Business Link to provide advice and information for SMEs so that they can keep abreast of changes and express their concerns.
Although regulation and taxes are a necessary way of life, the Small Business Service seeks to provide advice and help wherever it is required. Similarly HM Customs & Excise has its own National Advice Service which is available to answer any queries and give general advice.
The growth of e-business means that in the future customers will receive 'joined-up government', with one-stop shopping for public services all from the same point of contact. Businesses will be able to access all communications from a single point and with common standards for business customers.
Customers will be able to be provided with targeted and focused advice on services. Paperwork will also begin to become a thing of the past, with the Electronic VAT Return making the whole process of compliance straightforward. This automation of business operations will also help staff from HM Customs & Excise to move away from more labour intensive activities to focus more upon providing better customer service, while at the same time reducing the cost of operations.