Dear Mr Grayling – please help! I run a medium-sized firm of motor mechanics, employing a team of 20. Most of us used to make a half-decent wage, in line with our experience, servicing and repairing cars for the general public.
We were not the cheapest but we took pride in our work and customers generally returned, mainly because we were pretty good at what we did, but also because most of them knew very little about motor vehicles and, since we have built a reputation over many years, they had confidence that we would look after them properly.
No one would argue that we did not provide excellent value for money. Sometimes jobs were complicated, and sometimes customers were awkward, but we had the balance of age and experience to deal with just about everything.
As you might recall, last year the government decided people pay too much to have their cars repaired and thought the money could be better spent elsewhere. They said we had to reduce our fees and they would help us do it. Basically, they said only 37 garages could operate in the whole of Greater Manchester, and told the public they could no longer decide where to go, but would be allocated a garage based on the first letter of their surname.
Every garage that wanted to remain open had to tell the government the minimum fee they could repair a car for, starting with a point that was 17.5 % less than the current rate. Needless to say, we were all desperate to remain in work. Everyone undercut each other and now we have to charge a fee which is 25% less than we were charging 10 years ago.
Worst of all, we all have to charge the same ridiculously low fee and are not allowed to seek out new business. I have had to let most of the staff go and I am back on the tools myself. My experienced staff bailed out months ago (I am having to pay minimum wage) and I am left with the apprentice and a couple of youngsters I drafted in. This is the only way I can keep the costs down and get the contract. They try hard and I cannot blame them, but I cannot check everything they do. The government says it’s OK though, because their paperwork will be checked by other firms – thank god they won’t be looking under the bonnet!
Amazingly, the public hasn’t a clue what’s happening. They are driving round in deathtraps, thinking they are getting a good deal because it is cheap. I wouldn’t mind, but every time someone from government has car trouble (and they frequently do) they wouldn’t dream of using one of we 37. There’s a different scheme for the privileged, whereby mechanics are paid properly, and have the time and resources to do a proper job.
To get to the point, I’ve heard a supermarket is to bid next year and we really can’t compete any more. I am looking for a career change and have heard plenty about these ‘fat-cat’ criminal lawyers who are raking it in. I wonder if the secretary of state for justice thinks such a change would be a wise move?
Tim McArdle, Olliers Solicitors, Manchester