Trading standards officers in Norfolk would appear to be armed with magnifying glasses and an I’m-going-to-get-you-no-matter-what attitude.

This story is breathtaking. John Collins runs Parkside Garage in Norfolk. When the TSO showed up John wasn’t in the least bothered and told him to help himself, have a good look round and so on.

The upshot was the TSO took the covers off the pumps, discovered that two of them had been bought across the border (ie in Suffolk) and had the wrong seal. He promptly slapped prohibition orders on them.

John was gobsmacked. He has had these Gilbarco pumps for 20 years and no-one had objected in the past to the fact that they had been calibrated and stamped in Suffolk rather than Norfolk. Flexiline, which maintains his pumps, hadn’t heard of it, nor had his old mate, a retired pump fitter who had worked at Gilbarco. “They are riding on the letter of the law,” says John. “Here we are in the common market with free trade, yet I can’t buy a pump that’s calibrated in an adjoining county.”

When John challenged the TSO, the man admitted that he had been checking some pumps on the Norfolk Broads and discovered some with the wrong stamps so now he takes the covers off of all the pumps he checks just in case. Just in case of what? That the pumps contravene some arcane regulation? John’s pumps, I hasten to add, were alright, in perfectly good nick. Had been checked by weights & measures/fire officers and so forth. Didn’t need re-calibrating except that some obscure reg insisted upon it.

“It’s because there are fewer of us that trading standards has got less to do,” concludes John. “If we took everything to the letter we’d all grind to a bloody halt.” In the end the TSO insisted that Flexiline had to come out and do the calibration – which of course isn’t covered in John’s contract.

John rang me on July 8 just after the first visit. By the following day he had had another visit comprising the original TSO and a couple of senior ones (possibly because he had stirred up a bit of a fuss). They appeared to be back-pedalling a little but not a lot.

John doesn’t plan to take any of it lying down. One of his reasons for ringing me was to enquire whether anyone else had ever heard of this regulation as he thought it might help in any negotiations over price.

I rang Mark Bradshaw at Garage Watch who had never come across anything like it. His observation was: “Trading standards will happily put people out of business just for the hell of it.” I also rang Ray Holloway at the Petrol Retailers’ Association. Ray hadn’t heard of it either and observed that pumps have always been moved around in this industry – but he said he would run checks. Half an hour later he was back with the answer. “It’s part of the Petroleum Regulations. Technically, he committed a breach but it is not serious and one that should be resolved without action. No-one is at risk. If they were OK in Suffolk then what’s the problem?” The PRA has offered to deal with the matter on John’s behalf.

So it looks like the price of stamps is going up – if you buy a pump outside your own county, you need to get it stamped when it’s at home. It is the TSO’s job to check labelling but some of them seem to have taken the nanny state to heart. All they seem concerned with is catching people out.