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Dragon Interview: Arnold Pindar – Chairman of Effingham Parish Council

Arnold Pindar, chairman of Effingham Parish Council, President of ANEC* the European consumer voice in standardisation and chairman of the National Consumer Federation speaks to Chris Dick about how his work has helped save lives and prevent injury.

In a highly technical world full of politics, diplomacy, commercial considerations and jargon, Arnold touches on how children’s toys, ovens, baby products and many others no longer kill or injure our children or us.  Arnold speaks frankly about his passion for looking to the future rather than dwelling on the immediate problems.

How come you and your wife Sue settled in Effingham?

We met at Kingston College and during our early years together we loved the walks around Surrey. When it came to settling down and buying a home we had a budget and saw how the prices fluctuated – Effingham seemed to strike the right balance. Far simpler than our honeymoon that took place shortly before we moved here.

What happened with your honeymoon?

We’d always wanted to visit Scotland and British Rail, as it was then, was advertising “Golden Rail Holidays”. Unfortunately, they repeatedly messed up all our arrangements even after my frequent visits to their Baker Street office. They didn’t just get the hotel booking messed up but actually managed to book everything on entirely different days. In the end, in frustration, I recounted my sorry saga to the Evening Standard who published it straightaway, front page – the evening before our wedding.

Sue, who had had no idea where we were going for our honeymoon read about it in the paper before I had told her. Anyway, some director rang me up and I must say that, from then on, British Rail really did us proud.

Tell us a little about your family and how they cope with your frequent visits to Brussels. 

We have two grown-up married sons that live reasonably close by so it is just Sue and me most of the time. That said, I’m actually not in Brussels all the time. There is a staff of ten there and many supporting volunteers from 33 countries. I probably average one visit a month.

The ANEC Website – click to link.

We have spoken in some detail about your career spanning 40 years first in the Common Market and then in what became the EEC and the EU. Can you tell us a little about the work you have been involved in?

I am a bit of a super geek so your readers may find the detail too much. I try to get a balance between being a science geek and the realities of consumer protection. The term ‘Standards’ is enough to cause your reader’s eyes to glaze over.

On the one hand, death or injury resulting from, say, defective baby pacifiers choking a child or families being poisoned by the lead used to weld oven trays or people dying from asbestosis tends to focus the mind. Years ago, there were actually oven gloves that did not stop heat going through and you dropped the Sunday roast. Now they are safe.

Children’s toys coated in paint and toxins or, more recently, your washing machines, tumble driers or fridge freezers that burst into flames as occurred in Effingham and at Grenfell, that has been my world for the past 40 years, getting agreement on laws and standards across the EU to prevent these tragedies.

What have been your greatest achievements in Europe?

I would say preparing a visioning report, looking ahead ten years, for the European Commission. It paved the way for a regulation on the future of EU standardisation and was my greatest achievement.  But it was not the best achievement…

Several years ago, the best time was when an EU  committee was tasked with bringing together safety rules for baby pacifiers. There is a choking risk from poor products and sadly too many babies choked and died. Unfortunately, different countries had had different experiences and there were no consistent safety standards to reduce these deaths.

The arguments raged backwards and forwards and we just could not make any progress. Eventually, someone suggested we should stop and go for a drink. Anyway, one of our group started playing the piano which happened to be in the establishment we were in. Then another started singing. Bizarrely we all joined in. There was some real musical talent.

The following day we went back to arguing, shouting at each other. Then, when you realised you were shouting at someone you liked and had been having a good singsong with, your attitude changed.

It took time but we solved the complex production problems and published a Europe-wide safety standard helped by the friendships built as we sang our way around various bars in the EU. Our Italian colleague actually used to send us the song sheets before the meetings.

What matters did you fail to reach agreement on?

I have been concerned about the fire safety of hotels. Regulations vary country to country and enforcement is very patchy. ANEC has long called for better Europe-wide standards. The tourism companies insisted they could set the standards themselves but, in spite of trying to work with them and even speaking at the European Parliament to try to speed up progress, nothing has been achieved. The terrible Grenfell fire is making people think again about fire safety and gives me the opportunity to try again!

How did you cope with the different languages?

Language was never a problem as we had interpreters. But as the EU expanded more and more people spoke English. Interestingly, at first we used French to communicate when there was no interpretation but now English is the language of choice.

Where do you stand on Brexit and what do you think will happen to British cooperation with Europe over standards? 

Brexit is a subject we probably do not have time for here. What I would say is that from a consumer perspective it is important to see past 2019 and look to what we want in the years to come. Ideally, standards should be international to help trade but EU standards will be essential for UK businesses and consumer protection for many years to come.

At the moment I am organising a Consumer Congress on “Visioning Consumer Protection Post Brexit”. Ministers recognise the importance of consumers as we leave the EU but we need to explain to them what we want consumer protection to look like post Brexit.

In December the Congress was all about enforcement. There is no point transposing all the EU laws into UK laws if they are not enforced. The aim is to concentrate on finding solutions to the many consumer issues that have been identified by, for example, the House of Lords EU Select Committee.

You stood for the Liberal Democrats in the County Council Elections in the 2015 elections. Do you still have political aspirations? And if yes what are they? 

Yes, I did stand for the county council and also as a prospective borough councillor. The problem with local politics is that there are so few people willing to stand so whilst I did stand I did not have time for much canvassing. I don’t intend to stand again – but know knows?

Without giving your age away you mention life after Brexit. What are your plans for the future?

My post at ANEC ends in June 2019 and frankly, eight years is long enough. This will free up some time for the allotment but I shall continue with the UK’s National Consumer Federation.

You have been on the parish council for 11 years and served as chairman for nine years. What would you like to achieve during your current term?

The Neighbourhood Plan has been completed and there are plenty of other places to read about it rather than here. I would like to spend my remaining years trying to bring the community together perhaps with a broader Village Plan.

Just one last question, you mentioned death being your latest project?

Yes, I have just been asked to look into prepaid funerals. Some of the providers are giving a good standard of service but it is a bit hit and miss with others.

So it really is a from the cradle to the grave business! Thank you.

* ANEC stands for the “European Association for the Co-ordination of Consumer Representation in Standardisation AISBL”. Instead of this long version, ANEC is often described as “The European consumer voice in standardisation”.

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One Response to Dragon Interview: Arnold Pindar – Chairman of Effingham Parish Council

  1. Arnold Pindar Reply

    February 12, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Anyone interested in working to maintain and improve the protection of consumers, please get in touch. There’s lots to do as we leave the European Union.

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