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Bonkers Blog February 2014

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18 February (Part 1) - Short changed

SandBefore I got caught up in writing this blog I used to do a lot of DIY work or maybe that is an excuse and I have become old and lazy, but soon after I moved here in 1987 I went to a nearby builders merchant to order some sand and aggregates. I knew I would need a lot but was unsure how much I could conveniently accommodate on the drive of a new house and dithered when considering one cubic yard or two. I probably looked like a complete beginner but eventually plumped for two cubic yards. When it arrived it was quite clearly only one; I’d had enough experience of ordering sand before to know what two cubic yards looked like; so I called in Bexley’s Trading Standards.

A man came out, put a tape measure over my undisturbed heap, nodded agreement and went away. I got my extra sand and the builders’ merchant went out of business a year or two later. I bet you couldn’t do that any more.

I’ve seen Trading Standards officers out with tape measures checking if advertisements are larger than the law allows. I have seen CCTV of 16 year olds who looked ten years older trying to trap shopkeepers into selling them alcohol and I have seen them handing out labels to stick on doors to deter cold calling but I suspect the old Weights & Measures aspects of the job have fallen by the wayside. When did you last hear of a greengrocer prosecuted for selling unweighed soft fruit which they seem to do all the time?

There is a lot for Trading Services to do and a fair bit of it is a statutory requirement. As I understand it the government provides the funds to ensure the law is upheld. Bexley, as readers will know, is the worst borough in the country for food hygiene in restaurants etc. and the council’s excuse is that they only have the resources to inspect the high risk premises which may well be true. But is it a reasonable excuse? Is the grant being spent on Trading Services or being diverted to other functions?

It would seem the latter is more than likely because I have not heard that the government has removed any Trading Services responsibilities from Bexley council but they have nevertheless decided to chop the number of staff from six to two from April. Only a few years ago the number exceeded 20.

What is Bexley council doing with the money saved? They make no real secret of it, they are using it to plug Bexley’s £40 million black hole and without doing that council tax would rise. That might get O’Neill and her cronies slung out of office because it is close to being their only worthwhile achievement. In the lead up to May 2014 saving political skins is the priority, not statutory requirements.

A Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures is a post required by statute, like the Monitoring Officer, but he is for the chop in Bexley. Has the relevant government department been notified? Would the department have a view on the inevitable reduction in Bexley’s ability to uphold the law?

TattooWere the public aware of these development before 663 of them filled in their budget consultation forms? If they were I can find no reference to any comments on the subject. Bexley council should know by now that ill-thought out economies can have dire consequences. Do I have to spell out again how many deaths there have been where economies were a contributing factor? Or the cover-ups that followed?

Will Bexley’s next scandal be Weights & Measures related? My heap of sand was not a matter of life or death but regulating tanning shops, tattoo parlours and sales of legal highs may be. I really don’t want to hear “lessons have been learned” again from any council, least of all Bexley when someone dies after eating a take-away.

Note: With assistance from a retired Weights & Measures Inspector. Bexley council has decided to rob their health budget to fund two more Trading Services posts bringing the total to four. A far cry from twenty plus!


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