I like watching BBC Watchdog,
but I've noticed recently that the programme makers are getting
a little unfair.
Remember that most, if not all, of the presenters are ENTERTAINERS,
like nearly everyone on TV these days.
They probably have absolutely no qualifications associated with
the various pieces covered in their programme, and usually call
in an "expert" when it comes to reporting or staging
I'm not entirely sure that these experts are really experts in
the commercial sense of the word, as when it comes to fitting,
for example, a new central heating pump, they seem to assume
that the customer should be charged cost price.
As every successful self employed worker
knows, it's not always a straightforward task to actually get
a part for the customer in one's hands so the cost to cover this
has to be added to the bill. Whether this has been calculated
in the business overhead and included in the labour rate, or
added to the price of the part shown on the bill is a matter
for the particular accounting procedure.
Verbal quotations from trade suppliers rarely include mention
of VAT despite any official ruling on this matter so a quick
check of a price over the phone by a Watchdog expert is likely
to fall short by 20%.
As a rule of thumb I charge an extra 50% on top of the basic
cost of a part (that is the cost without VAT). My 50% mark-up
includes VAT, and carriage or postage (unless these costs are
disproportionately high and merit a separate charge to the customer).
The add-on also includes the work needed to identify the required
part, or its equivalent if the original is unobtainable, and
a supplier. This process can take several hours in the case of
really obscure parts and can lead one to a company in China or
other countries in the Far East, thus attracting customs charges
and stealth taxes.
Since the VAT increase I've upped my mark-up to 55%, which I
think is still very reasonable.
For a tradesman faced with a concerned customer in their own
house and needing a part not carried in the van, it is quite
reasonable to charge for the time to get the part from a local
supplier. Why should we work for nothing?
Put it like this. When you watch a BBC news reporter standing
in a street in Florida doing his 30 second piece on an incident
do you imagine the BBC are paying him just for the 30 seconds
he's on the TV screen? Do you think he'd agree to pay for his
own journey and his return from Florida?
I watched a piece on a rogue computer
I'm not saying anything about their "rogue" trading
methods, but I really must comment on the performance of the
BBC expert and the actor whose computer it was supposed to be.
"My computer got slower and slower until it just stopped",
was the owner's complaint.
The expert had in fact opened the case and messed around with
the hard drive.
The whole episode was what a man on
the Clapham omnibus would call a "scam". This expression
I believe is an old fashioned term used by lawyers.
Surely, scams are the very thing Watchdog aim to expose in their
There are a few things to consider in this specific case.
From the expert's comments the hard drive must have been an IDE
or a PATA drive. This would make it relatively quite old, as
modern hard drives are SATA types and do not have the type of
jumper to which the expert referred. In fact it's becoming harder
to find a new IDE drive these days and choice is relatively limited.
A slowing computer can quite reasonably be blamed on a failing
For the computer to then stop in the way it had been set up the
hard drive can reasonably assumed to have failed, although there
could be other reasons, for example; failure of the motherboard.
If the customer had said a friend had already looked at the computer,
things would be different. The friend may have messed around
and changed the jumper or even added another hard drive, but
no, the actor said "it just stopped".
Now we get to the price. A new hard
drive is just an expensive lump of metal without software. To
add a new hard drive to a computer can be an extraordinarily
If the customer wants his old data, it's certainly theoretically
possible most of the time, but can cost up to several thousand
pounds if a specialist data recovery firm needs to be involved..
It really depends on the type of hard drive failure. One type
of PATA drive failure several years ago was due to failure of
a chip mounted on a small circuit board mounted on the drive.
Data recovery was only possible if a working version of an exactly
similar circuit board was substituted for the bad one.
To restore a computer's software build
when it has a dead hard drive can quite easily cost £150.
Several things can make this price more or less expensive. Is
the original software present on a CD or DVD? Is the operating
system "OEM"? Microsoft will not countenance the re-registering
of an OEM operating system. It's hard enough getting them to
validate a non-OEM operating system when a hard drive fails.,
let alone winning an argument for revalidation of an OEM system.
Once software has been installed there are drivers, software
updates, installation of an anti-virus package and so on. The
list can go on and on and on and costs can mount up.
My main reason for typing this however
is what happened at the end of the piece on the rogue computer
It was explained that the company that Watchdog was investigating
(I prefer the phrase "Watchdog was scamming") operated
under many guises, a selection of which appeared in the form
of small advertisements shown on the screen.
Imagine my surprise when the name "Allan's PC Repairs"
It was even in the same font and layout as a small advert I once
put in the local paper.
When my brother emailed me and asked
if I'd seen the programme I decided to contact Watchdog. Nearly
two weeks later I haven't heard back, and I didn't see an apology
for defamation in the following programme.
I've now raised a formal complaint with the BBC.
Watch this space to monitor developments.
After waiting several weeks I got
a reply effectively swatting me like a fly that had landed on
their head. No apology.. just their "Allan's Computer Repairs"
had a different phone number to mine.
Please Watchdog. Stick to simple non-technical
schemes and DO NOT dream up scams to hoodwink tradesmen.
Another piece I saw was about a car
mechanic from Liverpool.
What I can't fathom out is the fact that he seems to be addressing
the Watchdog camera during part of their scam, but that's another
This time the expert had messed around with a car. He fitted
blown fuses, unscrewed vital mechanical bits and essentially
set out to fool anyone called to sort out the problem.
Fuses blow for a reason. Generally they do. Car fuses, unlike
some simple cartridge versions rarely fail from tiredness.
What can a repairer do? Fit a new fuse and charge a call out
Next day the fuse blows again.. He should have fitted a new part
How is the repairer to know an expert merely fitted a blown fuse?
Say the horn fuse blows. To guarantee no call back, it's not
unreasonable to fit a new horn and a new fuse.
What if the expert unscrewed a vital part or disconnected part
of an engine's electrical system? You may have entered the realm
of inexplicable faults. Many repairers do not generally follow
the regime of a theoretical physicist. They use experience and
rely on their knowledge of stock faults.
It would be a fair test to fit a faulty part that could reasonably
be expected to have failed.
But no, it was yet another Watchdog scam.
I say, "Sack the programme's staff and send them out to
get proper jobs".
Let's see how many can make a living fixing computers or repairing