Cher President de la Republique,
With apologies for writing this post in English, my French is just not good enough to express the disgust I feel with French bureaucracy just now. Statista informs me that over the last 10 years the government expenditure in France amounted to about 56 percent of their gross domestic product. That’s a full 12% more than Britain!
Just looking at a small area of government competency is illustrative of the way the French government squanders away hard earned tax revenues by employing incompetent civil servants, whose sole goal in life seems to be to say “Non!”
Loft insulation the French way and the British way
All European governments signed up to a challenging target to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. One of the most efficient ways to achieve this is to improve the insulation of your national housing stock. Britain introduced an enormously popular and successful campaign whereby the state subsidised the rolls of insulation material in big DIY stores so in fact you could buy a roll for just over £3.- instead of the usual £30
This resulted in a massive hausse in DIY enthusiasts tackling their drafty lofts. Even if some UK subsidised rolls disappeared in white vans across the channel, one could argue this is an acceptable loss mainly serving cold British pensioners in northern France – the ones who lost their winter fuel allowance because of a mean spirited recent move by David Cameron.
Realise that in France the price of the same material is around €47 a roll, which is strange considering us consumers do all the work recycling our bottles to make this stuff in the first place! France’s DIY stores charge extortionate prices for everything and need competition from British traders!
Towards the end of last year copious amounts of France’s precious state budget money was spent on radio advertising for the so called Prime « Rénovation énergétique » worth 1350€. Applying for it couldn’t be simpler: Just go on the web and fill in the form PREC1 found on https://asp.renovation-info-service.gouv.fr/fsreh/app.php If only it was that simple?
Instead of getting on with the job, the applicant then has to print this partly completed form and then faces the challenge of finding a local registered qualified artisan to complete a four page questionnaire and give you a quote or ‘devis’. I tried, they all run a mile!
You need a physics degree to study all the relevant insulation norms. I had paperwork returned to me four times, because a right number was entered in the wrong box, or a wrong number in the right box. How many would have given up by then? Nevertheless I persevered! I even bought my artisan a rubber stamp, because some pen licking bureaucrat in Caen insisted on one!
Then after four months in September 2014 my application was finally accepted. However I had to fill in a second form PREC2 with 90% exactly the same questions, even though they had a copy of my bill/facture and the work was long ago completed back in May. How much does it cost the French state to administer such a crazy scheme with so much paperwork? What percentage of the total cost actually ends up with the households intended and how much is admin wasted? Compare this to the British way subsidising the actual material: Simple, direct, cheap, efficient!
I forget to mention, to comply you need to choose two types of energy saving projects from a menu. A popular second choice is installing a wood burning stove. The smart ass civil servant designing the form however made it mandatory for the efficiency of this stove to be higher than 80%. Guess what: The only stoves that meet that requirement cost around €4,500 (beyond most household budgets) and are ugly as hell to boot. All the popular ones costing around €500 have efficiency ratings of around 75% and therefor excluded. Was the author on a retainer from Leroy Merlin one wonders, as they about the only shop that sells the high efficiency ones? You would think that European rules and standards ensure that wood burners, insulation material etc. complies with the necessary EU standards anyway, so why do we need a French civil servant checking that we correctly copy EU technical information found on some obscure label at the back of an already EU approved product? Mr Hollande, why let your civil servants bark, if you pay someone in Brussels to do exactly the same? No worse than that: Why do you let them get away ‘gold plating’ norms that are set at an EU level and vendors like Brico Dépôt are already told to comply with before selling a product to a consumer?
Moral of the story
France and other EU countries have a lot to learn from the ‘can do’ pragmatic approach of the British. Even if the Brits no longer manufacture much, they are quite good at implementing services. Au contraire it really seems that many French civil servants seem to make jobs more complicated than they need be. All they seem to do is make more work for each other, passing files back and fro, rather than contemplating the most efficient way of executing a specific government policy (like combatting climate change with better loft insulation).
P.S Don’t even get me started on impots.gouv.fr who took 3 years to change my address but fined me for not paying a bill I never received. Miraculously the demands and fine for late payment do arrive at the correct address, so they know damned well where I live!
And consider institute ‘Anah‘ responsible for ‘travaux d’amélioration de l’habitat’ in France. They will only consider subsidy requests for couples with a joint annual income of less than €15,000, while the costs of the works eligible for a 10% subsidy is often in the tens of thousands ( ergo no-one in that income bracket can afford the type of work they subsidise, so they really only exist in order to say -‘ Non!‘-)