Gordon Henderson: Rules should help small businesses

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I get a lot of issues raised with me by our FSB members: business rates, banks threatening to withdraw lending, water charges and more. Sometimes the issues raised are especially annoying because they are so unnecessary.

Did you know that if you have a shop selling second hand books you need a licence from the council? You can’t sell books to under-16s. You must record the name and address of every customer, and keep a detailed record (in a special £8 book from the council) of every item bought.

The Edinburgh-based book seller who raised this with me says that complying with the licence takes three hours of paperwork per day costing him about £8000 a year. Is this any way to encourage booksellers in a Unesco City of Literature?

A second-hand licensing regime originally intended to avoid the passing on of stolen goods such as second-hand cars and antiques is preventing retailers of low-value, high-volume “vintage” products such as books, toys and clothing from trading as well as they could.

A business running a chain of day spas and beauty salons were asked to register as a food business by one council because they serve tea and coffee, but the neighbouring council didn’t need this.

They wanted a £2000 per year public entertainment licence.

An Edinburgh retailer was recently fined because someone put their trade waste bag into a domestic bin during the night. The council’s trade waste department said the retailer was not at fault and should get a refund, but the council’s environment wardens said this was wrong advice – pay up! Their advice to the retailer was that they were responsible for keeping an eye on their waste bag until it is collected, in the middle of the night!

Regulation is necessary to protect communities and the environment, and it protects small businesses, employees and the public. But poorly designed or implemented regulation can lead to it failing to fulfil its purpose, while unnecessarily hampering local businesses and wasting the time of regulators.

The FSB has been highlighting these and other cases with the Government, and last week I’m pleased to say that the Regulatory Reform Bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament. This bill is not only a victory for my FSB policy colleagues, who have put so much time into it, but it is a victory for common sense.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager of the Federation of Small Businesses