Small Talk: Bungled Rules Trap Firms in a Web of Incompetence

Article excerpt

Well, I did warn you.

New rules approved by the Lord Chancellor could make it impossible for thousands of UK firms to sell their goods in Europe over the Net.

Any British company supplying a European customer from its Web site would have to comply with the consumer laws in all 15 EU nations.

If they do not comply, they face being sued in a foreign court.

It is claimed the Lord Chancellor's department bungled the situation because its representatives in Europe do not understand industry.

It is also believed they were effectively conned by EU partners keen to undermine Britain's place as Europe's number one e-commerce country.

This is sad, but highlights one of the major problems of having people in high office making the wrong decisions because they are ignorant of business needs.

I believe they could deliver a severe blow to business - especially small businesses. It is ironic that no matter how diligently an entrepreneur may build up a company, their commercial future may be destroyed through the incompetence of Government employees.

How are these folk recruited?

I am aware of many small businesses looking to sell their products in Europe. They have spent thousands of pounds on equipment, software and training. They have all the legal compliance of the UK to contend with but now, because of this ridiculous bungle, will have to deal with 15 EU nations, each with their own regulations and laws.

A small company stands little chance of wading through this maze of paperwork. In fact, I am sure most people from within the UK's legal professions are also ill-equipped to understand Italian law or German industrial/commercial company regulations.

Many small businesses are unaware of this change. If I read every piece of legislation I had to comply with, I would never have time to do any work.

This is ironic, considering the Government has launched a nationwide campaign to encourage businesses to trade on the Internet. Apparently, the Prime Minister wants Britain to be the best place in the world to trade electronically. I think he may have to wave goodbye to this idea.

The rule change has come about through the updating of the regulations on e-commerce. An opportunity was seen and grasped by the EU to severely damage the competitiveness of businesses in the UK.

This raises another issue - could Britain utilise the Competition Act, in line with European laws, to our advantage? I am doubtful, but it is worth a try. …