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News - 28 April 2003

North Laine Traders rise against a giant

There is nothing more guaranteed to warm the cockles of a small trader's heart than a modern day David and Goliath story. And the good news is that small traders have found a way to join forces and are raising their status in the City of Brighton. This is a story about a North Laine Trader who was an Enron customer passed over to British Gas when the first giant fell and then the problems started

Says Pat Mernagh - the small trader in question - "My bills suddenly leapt to twice as much as they had been previously although we weren't using any new appliances or staying open longer. I wrote to British Gas several times to point this out and to provide my own meter readings which were a lot less than their estimates but they never used my readings and never came to read the meter themselves."

The problem continued for about a year until British Gas finally came to read the meter. They then sent a demand for £2,800 and threatened to disconnect for non-payment. Pat decided to pay rather than damage her business by having the electricity cut off.

As a member of the North Laine Traders Association (NLTA) Pat's first port of call when in difficulty is Peter Stocker, chair of the NLTA. Peter immediately put Pat in touch with the NLTA's utilities adviser, Clayton Smith, who runs a company called Primediary.

Clayton discovered that the electricity meter was changed when she had the account with Enron and because of considerable confusion after the take over by British Gas they decided to bill her for all the electricity she had used to date assuming the meter started at zero - which it didn't. According to Clayton, "It is highly unlikely that a reconditioned meter would be reset to zero. These meters are designed so that it is impossible to do that, for obvious reasons."

Clayton took issue with British Gas and was able to recover £2,286 and he has since found Pat a new supplier who can save her 20% on her electricity bills in future.

Like all good fairy tales there is a message in this story and it is not just about good triumphing over evil or the small guy beats the big guy. It is about small traders working together to create a force that is bigger than the some of the parts.

The NLTA is part of something bigger - Business in Regeneration. This is a project aimed at helping small business associations to build capacity in all areas and to raise the profile of these associations and the small business community that they represent. Any small business that is a member of any of the participating associations (listed right) can also benefit from the expertise of Clayton Smith (as well as many other initiatives).


Read related items on:
Retail, pubs, clubs and restaurants
Agencies and resources
Business in Regeneration, BiR
North Laine Traders Association
Smith, Clayton


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