Continued pressure by the Car Wash Association (CWA), together with support from MPs, was responsible for finally getting the issue of rogue hand car washes (HCWs) onto Parliament’s agenda via the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) June 2018 hearings. It was rewarding that the EAC’s remit, the context in which they set the issues and the questions that were raised, were all so closely aligned with the CWA’s principal concerns. In addition to widespread pollution by up to 20,000 HCWs, these included Modern Slavery, tax evasion, employment and health and safety abuses, money laundering and drug dealing.
The EAC report issued in November essentially recommended what the CWA was hoping to achieve through this inquiry. The report forced an official response from the government, published in mid-January that disappointingly fell short of expectations. The EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Our highly critical report into hand car washes found widespread and alarming breaches of planning, employment and environmental laws... the government has accepted two of our recommendations (namely) asking the Environment Agency to write to supermarkets and promising to update the pollution prevention guidance.
"There is more to do on tackling labour exploitation. It is disappointing that ministers have opted for a pilot approach that is voluntary.
"With so few minimum wage prosecutions despite exploitation of workers being commonplace, the government must send a strong message to car wash operators that such practices are illegal."
Governments often struggle to deliver their existing policies so they can be reluctant to take on additional commitments. Unsurprisingly, this has caused the administration to fall back on market-led regulation in the form of the Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) promoted by the CWA and currently being piloted in the Midlands. The CWA will continue to bring external pressure to bear via backbenchers, regulatory bodies, articles in the press and reports launched by independent organisations such as the Clewer Initiative.