Even if we see a sign saying ‘merge in turn’, we don’t. It is not a clear enough instruction to overcome our innate belief that it would be wrong to move ahead of those sitting patiently in lane one. A good thing, too, that we like our rules, because in the food industry, they’re essential. It’s a safety thing (though I never did understand what the rules about banana dimensions contributed to the debate).
The problem is that in order to facilitate speedier action if a manufacturer or retailer breaks the law, local authorities police food businesses on our behalf. And unfortunately, they rarely do it in the same way, some opting for robust enforcement, others advocating gentler means. Cue high levels of frustration among the multi-site manufacturers who have to contend with the inconsistency between the different authorities’ policies.
But perhaps not for much longer. From next month, we will see the fruits of the Government’s work on better regulation, and not just in food. No more rules for rules’ sake; a new body – the Local Better Regulation Office – guiding food authorities on how to do their work better and co-ordinating a new Principal Authority scheme.
For multi-site businesses, this could mean one food authority telling another it can’t prosecute (that’s the theory anyway). There are a range of ‘civil’ penalties too – such as on the spot fines – to reduce unnecessary prosecutions. Food authority as traffic warden, if you like. Fixed penalty notices instead of court; instant justice instead of protracted prosecutions.
Will it work? It could, if everyone wants it to. But we are the nation that is apparently going to choose its restaurants by Scores on the Doors. So I’m not holding my breath.
David Young is a partner in the regulatory group of law firm Eversheds.