crime panel

LtoR: Ben Lawrence, Gareth Payne, Gordon Balmer and Bruce Nichol

While drive-offs and no means of payment remain big problems on forecourts, a growing challenge is the increase in crime in the forecourt shop.

Speaking at a panel session at the Forecourt Summit earlier this week, retailer Ben Lawrence, from Lawrences Garages, said his stores were experiencing three types of shop crime: theft to order, where people come in with a list of things to steal; drug users who target high value items to resell; and ‘cost of living’ theft, where many people are helping themselves to their own Buy One Get One Free offers.

Meanwhile, Gareth Payne, head of HSE and engineering - Roadside Service at Certas Energy, said staff at Certas sites were subject to more antisocial behaviour.

Both men said staff safety was their priority and they were implementing staff training and other measures such as personal safety cameras and even security guards to help counter the problems.

Gordon Balmer, executive director at the PRA and Bruce Nichol, operations director at BOSS, spoke about drive-offs and no means of payment and how the current reporting system needed speeding up. They called for access to the DVLA’s electronic system. “If you speed this process up then you stand more of a chance of actually getting your money back,” said Nichol.

Nichol shared data which revealed that the biggest hotspot for drive-offs and no means of payment was London, followed by Surrey, Essex and the West Midlands. He also said most incidents occur between 12 noon and 6pm – when sites are busiest.

Nichol said the number of drive-offs was trending downwards, but no means of payment incidents were up, and he wondered whether drivers were aware that a drive-off was a criminal offence while no means of payment was a civil one.

Balmer explained to the audience how the PRA engages with both the Home Office and the police about drive-offs and no means of payment, but said they were often fobbed off with statements such as ‘it’s your own fault because you don’t demand prepayment’. There was also sometimes an argument that these were ‘victimless crimes’. “The perception is that because there’s a big company’s brand over the site, they don’t actually see it as a single-site operator or family-run business. They think it’s a major oil company,” explained Balmer.

This misconception came up again in the panel discussion when the conversation moved to the CMA and the proposal for a new Pumpwatch scheme. Balmer mentioned the rhetoric in the wider media about ‘rip off fuel retailers’ while Ben Lawrence said he and his staff had been consciously educating their customers about the fact that they were a family business. “We tell customers that we have to change our pricing to be able pay our staff to keep the site open. We have two rural sites and if those sites closed people would have to go, perhaps, 10 miles down the road to fill up with fuel so that would cost them more.”

Balmer also spoke about concerns about the 30-minute window to share real-time price information with the public as some retailers’ till systems would not allow this without the site shutting down for half an hour, resulting in lost sales. He also stressed that there would be no choice involved in participating in Pumpwatch as it would be mandated by law. There was one glimmer of hope, however, in that perhaps the UK would follow the German model where sites with volumes below 750K litres did not have to adhere to their pricing scheme.