So, after 10 years it’s farewell to Uncle Tony. Ten years is a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards and, who knows, if it wasn’t for Iraq maybe the 10 could have become 15 (mind you, if it wasn’t for the poll tax maybe Maggie would still be prime minister). Well, we know how it’s been for you but how has it been for us?
The first thing that must be acknowledged is that all businesses have had the opportunity to develop in an unprecedented decade of continuous growth. Despite the rises in the past year, interest rates of 5-6% are still historically really low. The combination of the absence of ’boom or bust’ together with the low cost of finance has enabled many forecourt traders to expand significantly.
And no-one can dispute the massive increase in expenditure that has been thrown at the public sector, especially the NHS and the education system. So that’s that, then. Businesses growing, better public services -must mean we’re all ecstatic?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Despite the decade of growth, most of us aren’t actually any better off. The lower paid have discovered that the National Minimum Wage has hardly improved their lot at all - they may be earning more but now they pay tax and have to spend more because of the inflation in the service industries that has been caused by...the Minimum Wage. The extra paid holidays are great - but holidays cost money. Meanwhile the middle classes have been screwed like never before - all those increases in public expenditure have been financed by hidden taxes and the decimation of the pension industry.
The other big disappointment has been Tony’s obsession with spin. Nowhere has that been more evident than on his promise to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". In order to prove the progress that had been made, we had the introduction of a whole raft of police force targets and statistics. The problem, of course, was that these statistics started to show that crime was increasing. And then people spend more time working out how to massage the figures than they do on their proper job.
Which brings us to the plight of the petrol retailer. First we had the fiasco of how to deal with drive-offs. Some bright spark worked out that if you eliminated drive-offs from the crime figures the statistics would show a dramatic improvement. So drive-offs were no longer a crime. The fact that we were, and still are, losing an absolute bucket-load each year to these thieves was irrelevant. This was carelessness and forgetfulness by those darling little motorists. Or, even worse, it was our fault for trusting them to come into the shop to pay. Then we got the shoplifting debacle. The introduction of Penalty Notices for Disorder for theft of less than £200 of goods downgraded the act of stealing and put it on par with urinating in the street. These were only meant to be for a first offence but, surprise surprise, it turns out the police would rather keep issuing Notices to repeat offenders than prosecute them. So we learn this month of plans to introduce Acceptable Behaviour Contracts. They say ’Sign up to this and we don’t even have to issue you with a Penalty Notice. Then, when we catch you next time, you won’t be a repeat offender’. "Tough on crime" should have meant that the chances of getting caught were greater and the penalties when caught were a deterrent - petrol retailers have seen the opposite. And as for "tough on the causes of crime", any forecourt retailer will tell you that the prime motivation for the crime we suffer is drugs. Until the need to steal large sums of money in order to feed a habit has been eliminated - either by completely cutting off the supply or by legalising them and supplying them at reasonable prices - retailers will continue to have their profits stolen and their employees’ lives made a misery by having to deal with the scum.