Regular readers will be aware that I'm in transport (there's a tag down the side there somewhere). I really do try not to bore you out of your nether garments with shop talk but sometimes work issues hold a certain relevance to this place, and as such, the occasional transport business post escapes the censor (ie, me). This is one of those, so feel free to do something less boring instead if you so wish, although today's tale is particularly startling.
Transport is, as you can imagine, an industry which is heavily susceptible to the heavy hand of bureaucracy. It is quite understandable. However, the obstacles placed by government appointed bodies have been increasing exponentially as Labour's tenure lengthens.
In the past three years, this pressure has been cranked up to incredibly oppressive levels. Our business, though, has continued to grow, both in spite of, and because of, the ever more trivial demands of red tape. That may sound contradictory, but to explain, the incessant river of diktats with which we are forced to comply have accelerated in frequency as well as becoming more and more obsessed with the most trivial of eventualities. Each one has been more jaw-droppingly bureaucratic than the last, but we have performed all kind of contortions to remain able to trade. Each has made us a little less efficient but we are large enough to cope. If we had faced this environment a mere decade ago we would quite simply not have survived.
Of course, this has meant that we have watched competitor after competitor fall by the wayside for the simple fault of not being as established and cash rich as us. Honest, small companies have gone to the wall or just not bothered to compete against the cascade of overweening regulations. The assiduous one man band has ceased to exist, as have small but well run family outfits, and although it affords us a better position, I can honestly say that we really do miss them.
Of course, with less competition and more overhead inflicted by the public sector, you can guess what has happened to our prices, can't you?
Now, although we are used to this state funded interference by now, a letter we received today was quite astonishing.
I'm trying hard not to go into fine details here for two reasons. Firstly, it would take a couple of thousand words to describe, but also because it is incredibly boring, so I'll try to analogise.
Imagine you have been driving your car for five or six years (the government has stated that you are forbidden to drive anything older) and a new law is brought in which says that your car seats have been deemed unacceptable. You have to sort it out or your car will be illegal and you can be fined a hell of a lot of money should you try to use it.
Easy, you say, I'll just get the seats changed. Nope, not that simple, as the government has decreed that only the manufacturer is allowed to install the correct seats. OK, you'll get the manufacturer to do it then. You're stymied there, too, because they can only be installed when the vehicle is first made. Couldn't you get an inspector to say that the seats, freshly-installed by the manufacturer, are fine? No again, as the compliance certificate can't be backdated.
Your only option is to sell the car and buy a new one. Except you can't sell it as no-one wants it ... because they can't use it.
The old seats weren't a danger, no-one ever died or was even injured in any car in which they were fitted, they are perfectly safe and have been comprehensively crash-tested. But some pencil twiddler decided that he doesn't like them.
You have two months to comply.
It wasn't about seats (it was actually even more inconsequential than that) but that is the gist of our letter today. And, as such, half of our fleet will be obsolete in a couple of months.
We have just recruited a new office worker to cope with new contracts we are taking on in the autumn which involved employing up to 50 more staff, yet this quite unnecessary directive could lead to us being forced to lay off half of our employees to remain compliant. That's a net loss to the country of around 100 jobs.
The DVLA are more than satisfied with the safety of the vehicles, the Ministry of Transport too, and VOSA. But a fourth public sector body doesn't like one tiny aspect, so there is a real possibility that jobs will be lost.
We have easily manageable debt, a superb credit rating, burgeoning business goodwill, huge scope for expansion and job creation. But the state could well have killed it stone dead.
We have called our MP in. He has visited before and, to be fair, is familiar with our continual red tape problems and extremely sympathetic. He hasn't really helped tangibly before though so we're not expecting any pulling up of trees, especially since he is popping in when he just happens to be canvassing in our area on the day of his visit, according to his office.
We're rather proud of our ability to employ more people, our staff turnover is very low simply because we treat them properly and pay them well.
We'd like to continue growing, benefitting the economy, and thriving, but Labour's unceasing drive to punish irrelevancies, reward state paid public sector pen-pushing, while simultaneously squeezing every small glimmer of entrepreneurial spirit out of the country, is fast becoming an insurmountable barrier.
As a parting Jerry Springer-esque moral. What I find incredible about all this is that it isn't me, or my partners, who will suffer. We will still have a business, just a bit smaller. Other entrants won't be introduced to compete, most of them long since ceased operation anyway due to the unending application of overarching rules, and there's no way this will help them. And the big losers are working class people who we will no longer be able to afford to employ.
Yet it is Labour who are doing this. It's not those nasty Tories putting these people out of work, it's not the Tories protecting larger businesses from the unwanted downward price pressure of the small guy.
To coin a phrase ... we really can't go on like this.