Sunday, October 19

From The Square


.... Or perhaps more accurately from The Editor's Telegraph.

The Booker column today has a heart-warming tale; It describes how a couple, Graham and Sara Blackmore who ran a small skip hire company in Cardiff, had been turned over by officials from the Environment Agency and finally, having had their "day in court", had come away found innocent of all charges.

The story speaks for itself and is well worth reading on the link provided. But, what does not come over from this tale on its own – but will be apparent to regular Booker column readers – is one essential feature that makes it news. That "news" is the very fact that, despite being "framed" by the Environment Agency with a series of malicious, trumped-up charges, the couple were actually found "not guilty" in a court of law. This is not always the case and in a distressing number of instances, innocents are found guilty of "administrative" offences by courts which too often support "their officers" – the officials – right or wrong. I recall many such situations in my 10 years as an activist with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

A particular case is that of Janet Devers, featured heavily in The Sunday Telegraph today the week before the last the hapless lady was found guilty by Hackney magistrates for offences under the Trades Description Act.Apart from the issues involved – the sale of goods measured using the Imperial system – a review of the evidence demonstrates that the trading standards officer did not prove his case. There were major technical flaws in his evidence, in key areas he was shown to be lying and evidence was given from a number of witnesses that events the TSO claimed to have happened – which were essential to secure a conviction – simply did not take place.

On those grounds alone - without considering the general merits of the issue - the case should have been dismissed. But the Magistrates chose to believe the version of events offered by the officer – even though, under cross-examination, he had admitted they were not true – and convicted Janet. She is now to appeal; as one who has won more than one appeal against the injustice of lower courts as well in other cases of over over inflated small minded egos have needed to be brought bang to right, I wish Janet every success.

Yesterday we must note with concern that The Daily Telegraph was headlining – front page in the print copy – the "victory" by the metric martyrs. It is not a victory; far from it (Anyway the Metric Martyrs title is a misnomer, they should be the Imperial Martyrs but that is an other issue).

The EU regulations have not been changed and until they are nothing has changed. All that is being proposed – and then only in the next few months – is that UK local authority "guidelines" on prosecution are to be changed.What can so easily be changed administratively can, in a few years time – when everybody has forgotten the "victory" and moved on – can be changed back again; even then, this is just a "guideline" which, can be ignored anyway. It has no legal effect what so ever.

The key to all this though is the Rt Hon John Denham, the Innovation Secretary, he apparently issued guidelines that prevent local authorities in the UK taking traders to court. He is cited as saying: "It is hard to see how it is in the public interest, or in the interests of consumers, to prosecute small traders who have committed what are essentially minor offences."But who is Mr Denham's boss? None other than the Prince of Darkness himself, Peter Mandelson now Lord Foy - the master of spin.
I have had more than one conversation over recent years with his (now) Lordship. There is no doubt whatsoever about his intentions on full European integration which includes metrication (presumably he has now or for the time being at least , dropped the 'Stalinist' regionalization plans so favored by his fellow New Labour lovies!)

Small businesses in our once great nation have much to concern themselves about at this time, not least the ripple effects of incompetent senior bankers across the globe (with the notable exception the ''the worlds local bank'' the HSBC) officials and bueaucrats driven into action by EU regulations that quite simply do not have public support (or indeed logic). The FSB as the UK's biggest business organisation, is also, according to its web site '' the leading voice of small businesses at the heart of the European Union'' (EU).

Through their dedicated (small) office in Brussels, and their EU team, they no doubt try to ensure the voice of very British entrepreneurs is heard but it is clearly impossible (when one understands what is actually happening with the implementation of so much EU regulation) to make any difference what so ever.

Thus this is how we are now governed in the UK and many of us are getting fed up with it. One wonders what the Federation of Small Businesses can actually do other than support members to the hilt when ''the Inspectors call''. No wonder as I am fond of repeating FSB representative members have twice voted (1995 and 2001) to demand a withdrawal from the EU.

So there we have it, I feel a letter to Colin Stratton (FSB NE Regional Chairman) coming on or perhaps (or indeed both) a visit to the North East Regional AGM on the evening of the 6 November to (the now very referbished ) Grand Hotel in Hartlepool, I know they will be pleased to see me I am after all a member; I was once very active in the FSB, the largest business organisation in the Realm.

Peter Troy
8&9 The Square


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