SO THE BIG QUESTION IS, will you or won’t you? Support the appeal from the PRA for a legal fees fighting fund to take on the issue of hot product, that is. Now unless you are a very lucky bunny, and I’m happy to say there are a few out there who still receive deliveries of cooled-down fuel, you know your delivery shrinkages are costing you a fortune. And even if you receive some sort of allowance from your supplier you know that it’s a pittance and totally at their whim. And it hasn’t increased as the price of fuel has rocketed. And your losses are getting higher with each new introduction of higher specification, more eco-friendly, grade. So the answer is pretty obviously ‘yes’ isn’t it?
WELL, ACTUALLY, IT’S NOT QUITE as simple as that. You know how they used to ask ‘have you ever seen an honest accountant?’ well I reckon the same can be said about solicitors and barristers. ‘Oh yes, you’ve got a really strong case. Of course we can’t guarantee you will win but the odds are really in your favour.’ Until many thousands of pounds and an unfavourable judgement later it becomes ‘well, that point was always going to be a problem’ or ‘I can’t believe how he arrived at that decision, you’ve got a really strong case for an appeal’. And then there’s the fact that even if you win, and are awarded costs, you still end up paying a third of your costs anyway. Let’s face it, a lawyer telling you not to sue is like a turkey voting for Christmas.
SO, OK WE’VE ESTABLISHED THAT win or lose taking legal action will cost plenty. Now let’s look at what we’re up against. Firstly this would be a fight on behalf of something less than 8,000 retailers (exclude company-owned sites and exclude the hypers, who I’m sure will have sorted out very adequate compensation arrangements – this is one little select band of retailers that the oil companies definitely wouldn’t risk fighting in court). Now 8,000 retailers aren’t exactly going to decide whether Uncle Tony does or doesn’t get returned to Number 10, so you can forget any help on the political front. Then there’s the fact that winning or losing won’t affect what the motorist pays, so that’s another dead end as far as getting sympathy or help. Add to this that the Chancellor isn’t losing a single penny through our being shafted and you start understanding why nothing has ever been done about this problem.
OF COURSE THE REASON that hot product costs us so much isn’t so much the cost of the fuel but the 47.10p/litre duty we pay on every lost litre. The same 47.10p/litre that ends up as profit for the oil companies. A quick, back-of-an-envelope calculation of 8,000 retailers, average volume 2.5m litres and 0.2% shrinkage, gives the tidy little sum of £18.8 million pounds per year. Now in the oil companies’ general scheme of things £18.8m ain’t worth getting out of bed for – and even if an award was backdated for six years we’re still only talking petty cash to the likes of BP, Shell, Texaco, Total and Esso. But when it comes down to the micro level of the UK retailing arms of these companies, £18.8m IS a significant sum, and certainly helps fund a legal fees war chest that buys an awful lot of obfuscation and big-hitting experts fees.
THE FINAL KNEE IN THE GROIN must surely be the recent Esso case. All the way through we were hearing very optimistic noises about how the judge was ripping Esso’s QC apart over hot product. Here at last was a judge who wasn’t going to get rolled over by big business. The result? Sorry, lads, don’t really see this as a problem.
IN FACT, THE ONLY REAL PLACE I think we would ever stand any chance of getting any sympathy from is the European Court of Human Rights (oh how that hurts a Euro-sceptic like me to have to admit). And that would emanate from the unfairness of us not being allowed to measure that which we are buying.
SO WILL I OR WON’T I? Of course – provided we’re talking less than £1,000, how can I ever complain again if I’m not prepared to do something about it!