Three things have happened to me recently that have made me realise that local, independent and/or community-owned businesses have been put at a huge disadvantage as regards regulations that cover their activities, and the independent sector is being unnecessarily penalised for the damaging activities of the corporate sector. Licencing or specialist equipment are easily affordable by large operations, but are often beyond the reach of small businesses, and the economies of scale and tax avoidance of the big boys is unattainable by the little guys as well.
First, we had a new bathroom put it, and we tried to do it as sustainably and non-corporately as possible. But it’s difficult. Our builder – a really good guy – says basically that sustainable and independent is more expensive than toxic and corporate. He’d like to just work with sustainable and independent materials, but people won’t pay the extra.
We also went on a yurt holiday on an organic farm in Wales. They renovated a 17th century farmhouse, but they had to fight the planners all the way because they wanted to condemn it. She produces fantastic mature cheddars but she can’t sell them because she can’t afford the stainless steel units or the licence (which is ridiculously expensive). Someone at Environmental Health questioned why she wanted to make cheese in the first place, and told her that people should get their cheese from supermarkets, to make sure it’s safe. She can’t sell her home-made wines or meat either, for similar reasons. Now Environmental Health is coming into her home trying to cause her problems when it comes to feeding WWOOFers. We cooked in her kitchen and it’s gorgeous. The food is home-produced and superb. The idea that her cheeses or her food are in any way a health risk is absurd, and the Environmental Health officer who suggested that supermarkets are the safest way to obtain our food would benefit from education about risk analysis and the various horrors associated with a corporate takeover of our food supply.
Finally, our friend Jon at Sharenergy helps community energy projects to set up, but they can’t provide electricity for their members because the licence is too expensive, so they have to sell it to the grid at 4p per unit and buy it back at 17p per unit.
How could that be? Don’t we want to encourage locally-produced, organic food, natural homes, clean energy, quality, craft goods, a healthy environment, strong communities?
If so, then let’s remove unnecessary regulations and licensing from independent and community-owned businesses, and let’s help people build their own off-grid homes on organic smallholdings. Let’s change the planning system to encourage that rather than hinder it.
I think it’s a very winnable campaign, because it’s such a popular cause, and organisations as diverse as Corporate Watch and the Women’s Institute will love it. I imagine that the Permaculture and Transition movements would be interested, and even our local Tory parliamentary candidate said he’d support it.
We’ll be talking to other organisations about how to take this forward. Watch this space.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
Chris Gander August 19th, 2015
The problem, in every case you mentioned, involves the transfer of money. The ‘ product’ is sold, which means bureaucracy is involved ( tax, EH issues, planners etc).
Now, here’s a thought, don’t ‘sell’ the product. Give it away, or ‘invite friends’ to stay, and feed them on a personal basis. Can’t have anyone invade your home since that offends Human Rights.
Of course, if the friend wishes to make a contribution to the effort, washing up, or bringing a bottle to the table, or something else, then how can this be interpreted as public, rather than private?
And currently, the media ‘love’ any Human Rights violations! Play the planners at their own game!
Dave Darby - repliedAugust 19th, 2015
That could be part of the system. Or some sort of barter. But even then, LETS systems have been stymied because even though it’s barter and no money changes hands, HMRC found some way to tax it. (the cheek of it – let the corporate sector find as many ingenious ways to avoid tax as they like, without closing loopholes, but clamp down on small LETS systems). Plus WWOOFers are volunteer workers – no money changes hands, and EH are storming into their house criticising their (completely acceptable) cooking arrangements.
Plus also, it’s about helping small businesses make a living – so that will involve some monetary arrangements.
Dani Austin August 20th, 2015
This reminds me of how some organisations have to get around not being able to sell things. For example, I recently went to a Rare Fruit Society where they had to sell tokens for money, and then swap the tokens for fruit tree grafting sticks.
I was also considering selling soap here in Australia but it was going to cost I believe around $400 for a licence and I would be lucky to make that money in a year.
I definitely think a way forward will be bartering and trading as much as possible.
Dave Darby - repliedAugust 20th, 2015
I think you’re right. But I also think that we need a campaign to remove some of this weight from small businesses. If we need more inspections, then tax the big boys to pay for them – unless we don’t want small businesses, local food production, craft produce and resources controlled by communities. But I think most people do want those things.
It may be very difficult, but even if it fails, it will bring this problem to the attention of more people. It’s not a complicated political argument, and I think the majority would support it.
I talked with someone yesterday who pointed out the injustice of small, organic farmers needing licences that farmers who use pesticides don’t. Surely that needs to be reversed? Surely it should be more expensive to use poisons on the land than not, and organic food should be cheaper than food grown using poisons?
nomad August 21st, 2015
Part of the problem (in food production) is that if something goes wrong (Listeria,…) on an industrial scale…
Many of these imposed rules are justified referring to traceability, accountability.
a.) One of the last times I was in the States the midwives wanted to sell brownie cookies for some cause. Don’t know if they needed a license to put up a stall but they had to put up a sign informing their potential customers that “Food not processed in a State vetted environment”. They didn’t like that so it became a tiny handwritten scribble on a scrap of paper. Sorted. I can imagine now ObamaCare is around the public is even more “protected” and home baked brownie cookies are off the market.
b.) I was once violently attacked (my stall destroyed) by tax officers in Belgium as their central database revealed I had for more then once a year set up a pop-up shop without bookkeeping training, VAT number etc. — Left the country for some time after that. Festival season was over anyway.
A few suggestions that might be acceptable by the Rulers of the Matrix:
(1) Allow sales (of food products) on a limited scale (geo-fencing; limited production capacity,…) and force the seller to inform potential customers (see supra).
(2) De-regulate; allow those that fall under (1) to regulated themselves. This puts professional responsibility on the producers; might encourage the formation of trade bodies issuing guidelines (“get the milk barrel checked once a year by lab”) without forcing producers to join these entities (and pay a membership fee that kills it all).
It would be good to investigate how in other countries markets have been over- or de-regulated.
Dave Darby - repliedAugust 21st, 2015
Some good points. I’ll have to talk with people. It’s just whether we want locally-produced food and craft goods, and a thriving small business sector. I think most people do. Inspection regimes could stay in place, just reduce the cost of the licensing. It could be paid for by preventing corporate tax avoidance. (Corporations don’t break the law to avoid tax, so let’s change the law).
In some cases, it could increase govt. revenue – for example let’s have a licensing system for pesticides, not for organic farmers.
Ibrahim Hublou August 21st, 2015
Thank you Dave for the clarification of the terminology used. I’m glad I mentioned the “Ltd”-abbreviation; somewhere realizing there are more forms of corporation and aware of the too broadly used term “corporation” in the debate criticizing personhood, tax evasion etc. An article or thread on the subject, comparing these different corporation-forms, to get our terminology right and to compare these entities against a Co-op is maybe a good idea?
Andrew Rollinson August 26th, 2015
As this website has a focus towards maintaining small, independent, ethical businesses, what about setting up something on here which would allow no-cash, in-kind transactions? Or at least a database identifying those which would be willing to do this?
Ibrahim Hublou - repliedAugust 27th, 2015
Hi Andrew. It’s a great idea and if someone has the capacity and time to run such a webservice it would be something.
In a further stage I’d like to make my sailboat available in this kind of sharing-economy. The marketing would maybe initially go towards WWOOFers or other people who have a track-record showing who they are and what they did. The sailing would be sort of an incentive. Either for working on an organic farm, having staffed a stall at a peace camp etc. It would be a non-commercial venture. Sort of service organisation.
An initiative to look into as well is: http://bliive.com/
It looks like a talent sharing site counting the hours and allowing profiling of the participants. Looks quite safe.
At the right time things will take off. Any feedback is welcome.
Dave Darby August 27th, 2015
Sounds like a big LETS system – I want to look into LETS more. I hear it’s been stymied because of governments trying (and succeeding) to get tax from non-cash transactions, based on the cash value of the transaction. But as I say, I don’t know enough about it. I’ll speak a few people to find out.
Ibrahim Hublou September 2nd, 2015
Collection of materials related to LETS, complementary currencies and socio-economical developments
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Dave Darby - repliedSeptember 2nd, 2015