Research is evidencing a major concern among businesses – the need to have a level playing field. Usually, this used to indicate that some businesses were being preferred to others by the authorities. Today, the meaning that businesses are giving to the need to have a level playing field is that there are too many operators in their sector who are ignoring the laws of the country and are continuously contravening these laws to the detriment of those businesses that play by the rules.

As consumers, we notice this very clearly. Obtaining a fiscal receipt from certain outlets has become a chore. You need to ask for it more than once, and even then, you are given a piece of paper which is claimed to be a fiscal receipt but is no such thing. 

Many of us have been through the experience of buying something which does not function as it should while still under warranty and does not get changed. At best, one is offered for it be repaired, only for it to develop a fault within a few days. 

The point is that such suppliers are in a minority but are creating unfair competition for the law abiding firms, apart from short changing the consumers. It seems that this is hurting the law abiding firms, eating away at their margins, and these are now demanding a level playing field for all.

In economics we speak of market failure. This is a situation which reflects an inefficient distribution of goods and services in the market. It is a situation where the individual benefits at the expense of the common good.

The answer lies in self-regulation

One may rightly claim that these various situations and others like them do represent a form of market failure, because, although they may benefit the individual, they harm the rest of the country. Think of the loss in government revenue when the VAT collected from the consumer is not passed on to Inland Revenue. This lost revenue means that there are less resources for the health, education and social welfare sectors.

We can take the example of illegal construction works that may bring wealth to an individual but which do irreparable damage to the environment.

I would like to state very clearly that I do not believe the solution to this issue is expecting action by the public authorities. This is not because the public authorities are incapable or unwilling to act. They are both capable and willing, but to address the issue in this way would require whole regiments of inspectors, which makes it all very impractical.

We need look for the answer elsewhere. The answer lies in self-regulation. To have a level playing field for businesses, there must be an attitude to abide by the rules. All businesses, without exception, owe it to the society in which they are operating and which is giving them the opportunity to make a profit. 

If this does not happen then the business sector should not be surprised if public authorities intervene with what may very well be draconian measures.