Friday, 13 April 2012

Why outsourcing (mostly) sucks

Well, I'm going to rant a bit today.

It's the school holidays and, in order to make the whole "oh, we're responsible for the care of minors who can't be at school for two and a bit weeks" stuff, I have a couple of days off.  It saves a bit on holiday care and exposes the minions to their father in a slightly more casual setting than usual.  That's got to be good for everyone.

However, there are always a few jobs to be done that require business day commerce in quotients greater than those afforded by your average lunch break.  For instance, since we've recently moved here from interstate we need to transfer the registration of the car, a job that's never straightforward.  What better opportunity to get that done than to book the appointment at Vicroads while I've got a weekday off.  Right?


I rang Vicroads on Tuesday to book the appointment to transfer the registration.  Regardless of how things go, or whether you in fact turn up, you pre-pay a $40.50 appointment fee.  Straight away I'm annoyed by this ridiculous price gouging.  I mean, this is pretty much covering the face-time of the functionary behind the counter with whom I'll have to deal.  Why doesn't the registration fee I'll be paying cover that expense?

Okay, I get that some of the registration fee goes into Transport Accident Commission insurance funding, and some of it goes into producing actual number plates and registration stickers.  I also get that charging an appointment fee is a deterrent to people who make appointments and then blithely ignore them and don't turn up.   But heck, to me this fee is just an arbitrary charge for no gain.  I guess I should be thankful I don't live in a country where I'd have to be factoring in the bribes necessary for a particular transaction.  Oh.  There we go.  The appointment fee is the bribe for ensuring I'll have a place in the queue on the day I want to make a transaction.  Only it's legislated.  Small difference.

Then, having picked a mutually convenient time for me to turn up (picked to coincide with my other day off during the minions' holidays), and having paid said appointment fee, they advise me that I need to arrive with a roadworthy certificate.  Pardon?

Now, in order to understand my confusion, you need to know that (a) I've just come from a jurisdiction (the Australian Capital Territory) where the responsibility for carrying out roadworthy inspection lies with the registration authority, and (b) I transferred the registration on my motorbike in January this year and the inspection was carried out by a guy at the registration authority here in Victoria.  So, I was not expecting this, despite the fact that a half-way decent investigation of the details would have revealed this to be the case.  I'm just saying that my experience meant that I didn't expect to have to get this other bit of paper inside of the remaining three working days before the appointment.

Okay.  I can deal with this.  As it happens, the local dealer for our make of car is literally across the road from my place of employment, and they are licensed to provide roadworthy certificates.  So I rang them and was able to book the car in to be inspected today.  Brilliant.  I'd drive the minions to holiday care, Mrs G to work, drop the car off and walk across the road to work.  Then do it all in reverse at the end of the day. No problem.

What I was not prepared for was the mid-afternoon phone call informing me that there were a number of defects preventing our car from being certified roadworthy, and that some of them required the ordering of parts that could not arrive before next Wednesday.  Speechless, I was, as my mind wrote off the non-refundable fee for the appointment I'd booked for Monday.  Then the indignation fly-wheel in my head got up to speed and I asked for details of these "defects".

Well, I was advised that the windscreen was "sandblasted" and needed replacement to pass roadworthy.  Silence on my part.  I will note that, when driving into the sun, there is the odd bright speck on the windscreen, but not so much that it impairs vision.  I mean, we've had this car all of three and a half years, from new.  The dealer also reported that the front right and rear left tyres need replacement.  Given that we had both front tyres replaced within the last six months, I found this hard to believe.  I gave them a visual inspection this afternoon and I can see nothing wrong with either of them, though I'm willing to allow there's something an expert can point out to me that I can't see.  The dealer also indulged in some technobabble about other parts requiring replacement but, since they're covered by warranty, I haven't memorised the details.  And since they can make no money from them, they don't deserve my distrust.

Given this list of "defects", I'm convinced the only reason that they didn't claim that there were brake or indicator lamps requiring replacement was that I actually made a point of observing, upon dropping off the car this morning, that I knew they were all working properly.

Now, today I was pressed for time, and didn't have the luxury of calling out the inspector and asking him to point out the defects to me in detail.  I will be doing this on Monday.

However, my rage is driven by the fact that the average consumer is a hostage in this situation.  You can't register the car without the certificate.  You can't get the certificate without handing over an inspection fee.  And the issuer of the certificate (and collector of the fee) has a business incentive to find things wrong, so that they can sell you stuff.  They have you over a barrel.  It's all very well for them to say you can take your car to another inspector and get a second opinion (they did actually suggest this) but doing so will incur a further inspection fee, with no guarantee of a different result.  That's the definition of insanity.

In short, by outsourcing vehicle inspections, the Victorian Government has handed workshops a licence to pad their profit margins with the sale of parts to rectify unverifiable faults.  To say I'm livid about the injustice and the powerlessness of this situation is an understatement.  I'm sure other governments do similar things, and have done for many years, but that doesn't make it right.

Outsourcing of services is almost always a response to the need to save government expenses by transferring them to the private sector.  What is not always well considered is the additional cost to the consumer incurred by transferring a service to a profit-motivated supplier.  This is what has certainly happened with roadworthy certification, and is the perfect example of why outsourcing (mostly) sucks.


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