Janet Street-Porter: Got a job in the tax office? Lucky you

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The Independent Online

What I would like for Christmas is a nice job where, even if I lost loads of highly confidential material, all I would have to do is apologise, bow out gracefully, and expect an inflation-proof pension. And if I were so inclined, I could probably take it upon myself to recruit my partner as a consultant for a couple of years while I was busy extracting as much tax as possible from members of the public, all in the name of democracy.

Where is the cushiest place in the UK to work? With fresh revelations about data lost by the Department of Transport during something called a "routine operation", it's clear that the civil service is a world where double-speak reigns supreme.

Let's talk about HM Revenue and Customs, the people to whom I write a chunky VAT cheque every quarter, as well as paying personal tax, corporation tax and goodness knows what other taxes. After I've written out the cheques, and kissed goodbye to my hard-earned lolly, how do I know that absolutely all the money is finding its way into the coffers of Chancellor Alistair Darling, to be recycled for the greater good?

I'm not at all sure I do know especially after reading the latest statistics, which suggest that the place responsible for almost half of all the fraud committed within government departments is HM Revenue and Customs. This is the very same crew who have just taxed pensioners for their measly 200 winter fuel allowance, and who spend months of every year filtering through the receipts of self-employed people like me to make perfectly certain I have not claimed an extra cup of coffee, litre of petrol, or packet of envelopes I am not entitled to in my career as a journalist.

It's HM Revenue and Customs who have decreed, that even though I appear on television, I am not allowed to claim the purchase of any special clothing. They will argue about every train ticket, every cleaning bill, every haircut and the only people who profit (I always thought) out of all this endless nit-picking were accountants, with their ever-escalating bills.

Now I know otherwise. A total of 190 cases of fraud and that's only the ones that were detected were discovered in the department of Revenue and Customs in the year 2006-07, worth a staggering 1,752,664. That's a lot of pensions, and a hell of a lot of Christmas hampers for the needy. I don't doubt that fraud is endemic in our society I am not even surprised that the Home Office finds itself being guarded by an illegal immigrant after its boss declared that it is up to employers to make sure that everyone on the payroll is fully entitled to work here. I am sure that the department of Revenue and Customs is full of illegal immigrants.

The fact that the chief operating officer of the department's prosecutions office got away with paying his wife almost 100,000 after neglecting to get her appointment as a consultant approved certainly beggars belief.

If the man in such a senior position can go about his business in this manner (albeit that the appointment was eventually approved by the Treasury), can you imagine what is happening further down the food chain? The department claimed that the prosecutions office "lacked the expertise" so thoughtfully provided by Mrs Partridge at 550 a day.

Meanwhile, I had better make sure that my petty cash is fully in order I don't want to be raided by the VAT inspectors. It really is a story of two parallel worlds the trouble is, the taxpayers are the mugs.

So what could he see in her?

It's like the legendary question asked by Mrs Merton of Debbie McGee: "So, what attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?" I wonder what the pint-sized French President saw in the glamorous Carla Bruni who comes from a wealthy family and earned about 4m a year as a model in the early 1990s. It must be a win-win situation, all round though she aspires to be an intellectual, recording an album of poems by Yeats and Auden set to her version of lightweight chanson, Bruni was happy to be photographed at a Mickey Mouse parade with her new lover recently. Italian newspapers claim her mum predicts marriage, even though the couple have been an item for just a month.

* Christmas is the season for over-indulgence, and short days mean that walking to aid digestion often happens in pitch darkness with a torch in your hand. If you don't find the time to exercise there's a definite possibility of nightmares, in which over-eaters may be pursued by monster turkeys seeking revenge. So if you are in London, I recommend a trip to the exhibition "Sleeping and Dreaming" at the Wellcome Foundation.

Combining the artistic and the scientific, it is both thought-provoking and disturbing. One of the most powerful exhibits is entitled "Homeless Vehicle", created by the polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko in New York in 1988. Looking like a lunar module crossed with a shopping cart, it came about after the artist talked to tramps whose lives consisted of scouring the streets collecting tins and bottles by day and sleeping rough at night. Wodiczko's sculpture gives them secure storage as well as a basic pod to sleep in, safe from the elements. A reminder that not everyone spends the same kind of Christmas.

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