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Mo'gas: An irreverent view from the network

01 September, 2004
Page 58 
SO THE BIG QUESTION IS, will you or wonít you? Support the appeal from the PRA for a legal fees fighting fund to take on the issue of hot product, that is. Now unless you are a very lucky bunny, and Iím happy to say there are a few out there who still receive deliveries of cooled-down fuel, you know your delivery shrinkages are costing you a fortune. And even if you receive some sort of allowance from your supplier you know that itís a pittance and totally at their whim. And it hasnít increased as the price of fuel has rocketed. And your losses are getting higher with each new introduction of higher specification, more eco-friendly, grade. So the answer is pretty obviously Ďyesí isnít it?
WELL, ACTUALLY, IT'S NOT QUITE as simple as that. You know how they used to ask Ďhave you ever seen an honest accountant?í well I reckon the same can be said about solicitors and barristers. ĎOh yes, youíve got a really strong case. Of course we canít guarantee you will win but the odds are really in your favour.í Until many thousands of pounds and an unfavourable judgement later it becomes Ďwell, that point was always going to be a problemí or ĎI canít believe how he arrived at that decision, youíve got a really strong case for an appealí. And then thereís the fact that even if you win, and are awarded costs, you still end up paying a third of your costs anyway. Letís face it, a lawyer telling you not to sue is like a turkey voting for Christmas.SO, OK WE'VE ESTABLISHED THAT win or lose taking legal action will cost plenty. Now letís look at what weíre up against. Firstly this would be a fight on behalf of something less than 8,000 retailers (exclude company-owned sites and exclude the hypers, who Iím sure will have sorted out very adequate compensation arrangements Ė this is one little select band of retailers that the oil companies definitely wouldnít risk fighting in court). Now 8,000 retailers arenít exactly going to decide whether Uncle Tony does or doesnít get returned to Number 10, so you can forget any help on the political front. Then thereís the fact that winning or losing wonít affect what the motorist pays, so thatís another dead end as far as getting sympathy or help. Add to this that the Chancellor isnít losing a single penny through our being shafted and you start understanding why nothing has ever been done about this problem.OF COURSE THE REASON that hot product costs us so much isnít so much the cost of the fuel but the 47.10p/litre duty we pay on every lost litre. The same 47.10p/litre that ends up as profit for the oil companies. A quick, back-of-an-envelope calculation of 8,000 retailers, average volume 2.5m litres and 0.2% shrinkage, gives the tidy little sum of £18.8 million pounds per year. Now in the oil companiesí general scheme of things £18.8m ainít worth getting out of bed for Ė and even if an award was backdated for six years weíre still only talking petty cash to the likes of BP, Shell, Texaco, Total and Esso. But when it comes down to the micro level of the UK retailing arms of these companies, £18.8m IS a significant sum, and certainly helps fund a legal fees war chest that buys an awful lot of obfuscation and big-hitting experts fees.THE FINAL KNEE IN THE GROIN must surely be the recent Esso case. All the way through we were hearing very optimistic noises about how the judge was ripping Essoís QC apart over hot product. Here at last was a judge who wasnít going to get rolled over by big business. The result? Sorry, lads, donít really see this as a problem. IN FACT, THE ONLY REAL PLACE I think we would ever stand any chance of getting any sympathy from is the European Court of Human Rights (oh how that hurts a Euro-sceptic like me to have to admit). And that would emanate from the unfairness of us not being allowed to measure that which we are buying.SO WILL I OR WON'T I? Of course Ė provided weíre talking less than £1,000, how can I ever complain again if Iím not prepared to do something about it!