Over the holiday I was chatting with a bloke who runs a small company. By small I don’t mean what the politicians mean, one with a hundred plus employees and multi-million pound turnover. I mean a genuine small local company with a handful or so of employees, a few delivery trucks, and one depot. Many of our tradesmen such as builders, carpenters, plumbers, local services like garages, our traditional local shops, our farms, our leisure facilities, estate agents, food suppliers and suchlike fall into this size of small business. Some might employ a couple of people, some a couple of dozen but we are dependent on their services and their employment opportunities to hold our towns and villages together.
I didn’t follow all the details, and in any case it’s the scenario that matters not the details, but I gathered that this chap had just completed a course to become accredited as a transport manager and after the holiday he had to oversee the fitting of new style digital tachographs to his company vehicles because anything over 3.5 tonnes is now affected. Inevitably he had to take time out from the business to attend the course and was charged a fee to fund the course. He will have to pay for the new tachographs and make sure his drivers can use them. He said they had identified considerable problems for any small business who had, until now, been able to rent a truck for very occasional use because they would not have the required accreditation to do so in the future.
We all point to the EU as the evil source of the never ending stream of regulation that restricts our freedom and our efficiency. Well yes, that’s what they do. But arguably they are no more of a problem than the quislings in our own Westminster bureaucracy and parliament who are only too pleased to seize on these rules and gold plate them before passing them on to the UK public, along with the associated costs of implementation and compliance checking. I believe the goods vehicles rules had opt-outs, but nobody in our civil service bothered to tick the box, so Fred the builder with his truck and trailer has the same rules and compliance overheads as a huge transport firm like Eddie Stobart with his fleet of 40tonners. I read today that UK egg producers have just been hit with regulations that are being ignored on much of the European mainland. Our own government agencies are increasingly as much of a problem as the EU itself. Meanwhile the government, despite talking about removing red tape, is dishing out civil awards in the new year honours lists to the very people who signed us up for so many EU rules.
The third, and equally important, factor to all this stultifying and anti-efficient regulation is the people directly affected, who depressingly seem to lap it up with barely a whimper of complaint. If the EU were to tell French farmers they had to undertake a 3 day course entirely at their own cost then spend large sums on all their tractors to get them compliant it would only be a matter of days before every town, airport and ferry were blockaded by angry farmers. Even in the UK, imagine what would happen if every teacher had to spend 3 days of their own time, and a thousand pounds or so of their own money buying compliant teaching equipment for the new term – strike anyone? Yet here in the UK business people just mutter a bit and conform. There is no opposition.
These insidious regulations are deliberately edged into society in such a way that when taken individually it’s not worth the effort of fighting them. It will continue to get worse and the inefficient over-regulation of our country will increase until businesses actively refuse their co-operation. We don’t need overprotected groups like teachers marching in London to protect their inflated pension entitlements. What we need is action from business against the strangulation of the economy, and their businesses, by regulation. A strike not by workers but by the bosses to protect business would be an interesting proposition.