Comment: No teeth in UK implementation of tyre legislation
When it comes to legislation affecting the tyre industry it is a tug of war between “rules are rules” and “rules are made to be broken.” As readers of our Tyrepress.com e-Newsletter will already know, the events of recent weeks have provided us with some bizarre examples of this kind of contrary logic in action. When Carl Steele from Lincolnshire was found guilty of causing in excess of a quarter of million pounds worth of environmental damage during a two year tyre dumping stint, you could be forgiven for thinking the justice system would force him to pay his debt to society.
As Tyres & Accessories reported at the time, the 33-year-old was indeed sentenced to 15 months in November. However he has now been released after serving just five months of his sentence. Perhaps the most galling part of the story is that he only has to pay back £122 despite amassing an estimated £2.5 million through illegally dumping tyres in Essex, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. And that’s despite pleading guilty to six charges and after a judge was told the number of tyres he illegally dumped was the most ever collected by an individual.
This is apparently because, the hearing was told, the sum was the only “available asset” left in a bank account linked to Steele’s company FCM Logistics (Tyres). The fact that he has been given almost six months to pay this back, while large tyre dealerships that have tyres illegally tipped on their forecourts have to pay five-figure sums to dispose of tyre they shouldn’t be responsible for, would be funny if it wasn’t also true. But the fact remains that as far as government, TIF, TRA, NTDA and any scrupulous dealers are concerned the law on collecting, storing and disposing of tyres is absolutely clear.
Thinking back to 2005 when European legislation banned the use of lead wheel balancing weights, we experienced similar confusion. Despite widespread coverage in these pages, advice from associations and of course the law, there were reports of certain parties buying shed loads of wheel weights on or immediately before the deadline, thinking these could be filtered out through the market before anything came of it. Things are different now and basically everyone is compliant. But once again in this case it came down to enforcement. No one seemed to be looking. There didn’t seem to be any teeth.
S-marking implementation in 2009 provided a variation on this theme. The laws were in place. The industry was relatively well informed about it. The vast majority of European countries successfully implemented the rules on time. Not the UK: there was a delay of three months here because no enforcement body was in place. Again it’s all about enforcement.
By the time you are reading this editorial in our print edition, tyre firms will be about to start talking about their product labels. Before now they have had to keep their lips sealed on the subject in order to ensure a level playing field for everyone. But for many in the market a number of questions remain: Why isn’t there a winter label as otherwise these products may be disadvantaged? How come manufacturers are allowed to downgrade the performance of their products on label? Why is there effectively no grade boundary for a “D” grade? Do businesses have to provide labels for pre-2012 products?
These are all of course valid questions that are being, and no doubt will be, answered by those involved (look out for further coverage in Tyres & Accessories), but none of them address the wider point. Who’s checking that a) tyres have labels; and that b) these labels accurately reflect the performance of the product? The European legislation allows for each member state to appoint its own enforcement body. But as our experience with other legislation shows, this can lead to a variable degree of robustness in practice. Or in other words some states’ teeth are sharper than the rest.
While – unofficially – we have an idea of which enforcement body will be wielding the stick in the UK, the market is still waiting for confirmation of this. And as long as this is up in the air it is in danger of undermining the rigidity of the whole approach. Having good laws is the first part – although many would argue there is work to be done here. But this all depends on enforcing the rules anyway. As the saying goes: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”