Fleet News

Guest opinion: Time to change laws is before they start

MORE and more legislation might seem to be this Government’s one aim. And like it or not, legislation and regulation impacts on every part of a business. And it’s getting worse. New legislation continues to pour, like a white paper blizzard, out of Westminster and out of Brussels – the latter now being the source of something like 70% of all new regulation.

Over the past few years, Government has imposed legislation on the industry that was, shall we say, inappropriate. Often it was inappropriate simply because Government had not recognised the impact that it would have on end users and on how we, as an industry, would also be affected.

For example, congestion charging, where at the 59th minute of the 11th hour before implementation we were told that for contracts of longer than six months we would not be able to transfer liability.

Or, emanating from Brussels, the new Distance Selling Regulations, where consumers would have a seven day cooling-off period to cancel contracts agreed over the phone, internet or e-mail, irrespective of the fact that the contract might begin within that period.

Or the new Insurance Mediation regulations where the travel sector was recognised by Government and could sell car hire plus its associated insurances but the rental industry itself was caught in the regulations.

Same product, different regulation. Or, the threat of our rented or contract hired commercial vehicles being impounded because the operator didn’t hold a relevant O Licence.

All such action was ‘inappropriate’ and impacted heavily on both industry and customer.

Yes, we’re past all of these now and the inappropriateness has been rectified – but not without some pretty strenuous effort.

What we now have is a sea-change in our ability to influence legislation and perhaps one of the ways that we see that lies in the fact that we no longer talk in terms of the industry having 2.3 million vehicles but 2.3 million drivers.

When you think about it, this becomes obvious. It’s people who generally bear the brunt of inappropriate regulation, not vehicles. And with this change comes a similar radical re-appraisal of how we can influence legislation. At the beginning. Before it’s written.

Let me quote some examples. The Lorry Road User Charge, due for implementation in 2007/8. Today, we’re part of the group discussing and agreeing its design and structure. The Edinburgh congestion charge scheme – rental company needs are included. New regulations concerning the place of supply for VAT purposes – rental companies are recognised in the legislation.

This point of principle in influencing legislation at what I like to call its point of design, is fundamental. It’s the way forward. It’s the only way forward. It’s the way forward that works.

Forget about trying to change legislation after it’s enacted – that’s like trying to push water uphill. Instead, we’ll influence beforehand and get Government to recognise the needs of 2.3 million drivers in their thinking.

But of course, in this Treaty of Rome era, we operate on a wider scale. We’re OK in the UK, but Brussels and Europe?

We have resigned from ECATRA in order to influence European legislation at its point of design and not after enactment. In order to get what the industry, and the drivers it serves, needs.

With that as a clear, strategic objective we’ll be in at the heart of the EU Commission, informing and influencing future legislation.

And drivers, certainly in the UK and potentially across Europe, will be the better off for it.

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