Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery shop in Hastings and co-founded and sold Green & Black’s chocolate firm, with hubby Craig Sams
Whatever your politics, there can hardly have been a small business in the land that didn’t give three cheers upon hearing that the new Con-Dem government plans to do away with a lot of the red tape we all have to endure at the moment. Quite how they’ll manage it, none of us is certain but I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that the form-filling and constant checks that need to be carried out in the course of an average day are dramatically reduced.
I do agree, of course, that customer safety is of paramount importance. But red tape seems to have taken over where common sense left off. Let’s look at the checks we have to do, for instance, on our freezers and our chiller cabinets. Judges is also a one-stop shop selling everything from milk to lettuces via wine and cheese. So, in the shop, we have four fridges and two deep freezes. ’Backstage’, we have five freezers and six chiller cabinets our sourdoughs are space-hungry while they take their 24 hours to rise
Our local Environmental Health Officer a very pleasant chap, as it happens, and a customer, too insists that we take a temperature measurement of every single one of these chillers. Not once a day, not twice, but three times, with the temperatures noted on a chart. This takes one of my staff around 20 minutes, morning, noon and early evening before we shut up shop. At £6 an hour, I’m paying £42 a week, or £2,184 a year for that task alone and that’s the tip of the (carefully temperature-monitored) iceberg.
We have HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Path) analyses to do, with flow-charts to produce accordingly. We have fire alarm checks, health and safety inspections and whole ring binders full of record-keeping, not to mention a requirement to send everyone to retake a Food Hygiene exam every three years. That’s another day out of the business all so that someone who has been safely working with food day-in and day-out for 36 months can renew their piece of paper. Wouldn’t it make more sense and cost the government a lot less money if they could self-certify, after that three-year period?
Of course I don’t want to poison anyone, or injure them. I never forget a chilling story a friend told me when I announced we were taking over the bakery an incident many years beforehand which had put her off shopping there. Upon getting a custard tart home from the shop, my friend found a paperclip in it. Returning it to the bakery, the sales assistant took one look and commented: "Well, it can’t have happened here. We don’t use paperclips."
Obviously there have been some strides made on customer service at Judges since then, not to mention a major tightening-up of what is and isn’t allowed in the bakery area no glass, no paperclips, no un-netted hair in order to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again.
Actually, what annoys me is that a lot of the red tape we face at the ’front end’ in baking and retail is to make up for the bad practices that go on with meat production, for instance, or the dairy industry think listeria, salmonella, etc. We have to make sure that what we’re doing eliminates the risk of contaminated food harming the public, because we’re the final interface with the customer, even if those pathogens were introduced way back in the food chain. A lot of the rest of the red tape, however, is simply because we’ve had too many bureaucrats sitting around in Whitehall, apparently with nothing better to do than make it almost impossible for bakers and shopkeepers to cut through that tape and get on with what we’re good at: feeding the nation, not filling in endless forms and charts.
Dave ’n’ Nick, we’re all ears.