We Brits know how to win a war. Its all about the slogans…
‘These are the good old days’. So says a little sign in the bar of the pub next door, alongside another that advises ‘Keep calm and carry on’. This, as I’m sure you all agree, is jolly good advice. For myself, and any other company owner that has had to steer their business through the dark and unchartered waters of a global pandemic whilst simultaneously being hectored and lectured by Greta and her army of teeny tantrum tykes, only to find that, contrary to what we thought, it could get worse, as we now plunge into a European war the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, the last time the Russians were on the march – perhaps all one can do is keep calm and carry on. Greta’s ubiquity has been substituted by Dobbie the House Elf, and all of a sudden, the conceit and naivety of imagining that we have the luxury of running our homes or cars on wind and wishes has become clear.
But last month, I received an alarming request for a meeting from Karen in accounts. Apparently, the price of oil had the potential to cause us some major challenges. Every year at Munich Legends, a man delivers around 8000 litres of oil (kerosene) and then we set fire to it. This is so that we can heat the roof of our workshop, and then every now and again, we open the big doors to heat the outside. At around 37p a litre, this was not a conspicuous overhead. However, at £1.29 a litre, this could become a serious issue, taking the cost to over ten grand a year from just under three. And this whilst the world has reserves of oil – and before we actually stop buying the stuff from Putin. Imagine if it hits £2.50 a litre. Or more? Suddenly, just ‘carrying on’ seemed irresponsible.
And I wasn’t planning on keeping calm either, because I had to have a plan. In fact, we dusted off an old project we started some years ago but never concluded. By fabulous coincidence, it turns out that every year another, unrelated man, takes away around 8000 litres of oil we’ve drained from people’s engines, gearboxes, sumps etc and charges us for the privilege. He then takes that waste oil and either sells it to the government, who burn it in a power station to make electricity, or one assumes, disposes of it in some other useful fashion.
The idea was to replace our current boiler with one adapted to burn waste oil. When we first thought of this, the numbers didn’t really stack up – from memory the return was well over five years – and the motivation wasn’t strong. But at these prices, our idea was back on top. Not only would we save over £10,000 a year, but we’d be saving the planet, too. That’s 8000 litres of oil that we don’t have to pump out of the earth, ship to a refinery, then load on to a tanker, sail it across the world, store it, then load it onto a lorry, and drive it to Munich Legends, every year. It disposes of another 8000 litres that otherwise have to be pumped into another lorry and driven to some storage facility, for someone to then try to find a way of making it disappear. Everybody wins, surely? It was a solution of such breath-taking genius that I had to go and have a sit down.
However, of course, it isn’t that simple. Turns out I’m not the only decision maker in this process, and that a couple of years ago, someone in government decreed that Munich Legends recycling oil is a bad thing. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the powerful lobbying groups employed by the oil companies. I’m also certain that it has nothing to do with the fact that the government would miss out on disposal taxes, corporation tax on the oil companies’ profits or the VAT normally levied on my fuel purchases.
Perhaps it would be terribly naïve of me to suggest that the government of any political party could be nimble enough, could understand a specific industry in enough detail, would be clever enough or even might be bothered enough to examine the merits of this option during a time of crisis – to reverse the stupid ruling and help an industry that – lest we forget – spent the best part of 2020 and 2021 effectively forced to close to the public. A few discreet phone calls to my fellow garage managers in Sussex reveal that even the big dealer groups are scratching their heads over this issue. The people who make the rules seem to want to argue that me burning waste oil on site does more damage to the environment than the footprint of the network of worldwide distribution that brings oil from Alaska or the Middle East to Chelwood Gate, added to the one that collects the waste, stores it and then either burns it somewhere else, or, one assumes, puts it into a big hole.
During the last European war, when things got tough, the sloganeers got busy. Make do and Mend. Dig for Victory. Deserve victory. Don’t waste oil – not a drop – not a splash(!) If we’re serious about freezing out Putin and avoiding a full-blown World War down the line, we may need to take a similar approach and do more to exploit those resources readily available to us. Small businesses – the countries’ largest employer – are vital in peace or war. It provides the money chest that buys the means of defence and ultimate victory. A smart government would look at ways to help small businesses whilst simultaneously withholding money from the very people we’re funding to wage war against our friends. What I do know is that if we don’t find clever, real solutions to this crisis – and it may not have even got going yet – we’re all in serious trouble.
So, perhaps we need some new slogans for this modern war. I’ll volunteer ‘Burn the waste oil to make Putin’s blood boil’. That should do the trick.
Dan Norris, Straight Six Magazine by BMW Car Club GB (May 2022 issue)