By Richard Littlejohn
Nigel Clempson runs a successful shopfitting company in Staffordshire. He’s the kind of businessman upon whom Britain’s recovery depends.
His teams of skilled craftsmen work seven days a week, mostly at night, refurbishing shops and bank premises.
It’s hard graft, but the company now employs 100 people and contributes hugely to the local economy.
All the debris they strip out of the buildings they are refitting is taken back to the firm’s yard at Rawnsley, near Cannock, where it is dumped in a large skip to await recycling and disposal.
Because of the nature of the firm’s business, the yard is accessible round the clock.
The skip attracts the attention of local rag and bone men and groups of travellers, who sort through it in search of salvage.
This has been going on for ten years. Nigel has never had a problem with the scavengers, who are looking for scrap metal and other materials they can sell on for a few bob. Good luck to them.
Recently, he received a visit from a police officer and an inspector from the environmental health department at Cannock council.
Apparently, the police had seen some travellers loading scrap from his yard into a Transit van.
You need a licence to transport industrial waste, they said. He assured them his company was fully licensed and insured.
Ah, but the travellers aren’t. Nigel was informed that it was his duty to ensure that anyone taking materials from his premises had something called a waste transfer certificate.
Travellers come and go at all hours. How was Nigel expected to keep track of everyone and make sure they were carrying the correct permits? He’s got a business to run.
That was up to him, the officers said. If any of the material was fly-tipped and traced back to him, he would face a hefty fine.
Why should the onus be on him and not on the travellers themselves? After all, half of them don’t even tax their own vehicles, so they’re hardly going to bother getting a waste disposal certificate. They’d probably only give false names, anyway.
In which case, he would just have to stop them removing stuff from the skip. But if he locks the gate to the yard, the scavengers just climb over the fence. How about razor wire?
That wouldn’t be wise, sir. If anyone hurt themselves breaking into the yard or while rummaging through the skip, for that matter, Nigel could find himself facing prosecution and being sued for compensation.
The only solution was to commission a giant metal cage, secured by padlocks, to cover the skip at all times,
Staff would have to unlock the cage, dump their debris, and re-secure the site before leaving. It’s difficult enough trying to stay ahead of the game in this economy.
Small business owners are drowning in bureaucracy and spend half their lives filling in forms, ticking boxes, collecting taxes on behalf on the Government, when they should be drumming up orders.
Unnecessary rules and regulations pile crippling costs on to companies. Now they are even expected to act as enforcement officers on behalf of the environmental health department.
Try, for a moment, putting yourself in the shoes of a businessman who has been told it is his personal responsibility to make sure an itinerant gang of travellers, who turn up out of the blue in an untaxed Toyota pick-up, running on red diesel, has the right paperwork.
You would be forgiven for deciding that the game’s not worth the candle. That’s what prompted Nigel Clempson to write to me.
I’ve often wondered in this column why anyone bothers to start a business these days, given the level of official interference and the vindictive, anti-enterprise culture which exists in Britain.
After his visit from Mr Plod and the jobsworth from environmental health, Nigel told me: ‘I feel like packing it in and putting everyone out of work, all 100 of them. Being told to spend thousands making a skip thief-proof was the final straw.’
Fortunately for his employees, Nigel is made of sterner stuff. He is determined the bastards won’t grind him down and has reluctantly decided to spend £2,000 on a special cage to encase his skip.
But let’s say he had concluded enough was enough. That would be another firm gone to the wall, another 100 jobs on the scrapheap, another 100 people not paying income tax, another company not paying corporation tax and VAT, hundreds of thousands of pounds in National Insurance contributions down the gurgler.
We have come to expect this officious behaviour from the assorted jobsworths of local and central government. But what the hell had any of this to do with the Old Bill?