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A year of upheaval

This year has seen massive upheaval in the Top 50 Indies listing, compared with 2018 when not only were the Top 10 companies all the same companies as the previous year, but they were all in the same order too. Not least among the changes is that, for the first time in its existence, the Top 50 is not headed by MRH. It was swallowed up by MFG last year, making the combined organisation well over twice the size of its nearest rival and taking top spot for the first time.

Evading the issue

When a Parliamentary Committee of MPs announced last year that it was launching an inquiry into the hand car wash sector it appeared that a long campaign was finally paying off. For years the PRA and its sister organisation, the Car Wash Association (CWA), have been highlighting the explosion in the numbers of rogue operators, and calling for action by the authorities. By paying no taxes, using slave labour and ignoring pollution regulations, these operators were able to undercut legitimate car washes, driving many of them out of the sector.

Competition for growth still intense

We've just had a year of seismic events with the second largest operator, MFG, buying its larger rival MRH, and Sainsbury's agreeing a deal with Asda that would make it the UK's number one road fuel retailer. And while one deal has cleared all its regulatory hurdles, and the other is facing an uphill struggle in its engagement with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), both are likely to continue to reverberate through the coming year.

The police have got it wrong

As police services across the UK have cut the number of frontline officers in response to funding pressures, chief constables and politicians have been looking for ways to ease the burden on the remaining crime fighters. One way that has been repeatedly suggested is downgrading the importance attached to forecourt drive-off crimes. It is a policy that has been proposed by a number of police chiefs over the years, but the first time it made major national headlines was in 2014.

Turning the tide

For many years the government has turned a deaf ear whenever the PRA and the Car Wash Association (CWA) have highlighted the scourge of illegal hand car washes springing up in towns and cities across the UK, but finally it has been presented with evidence it can't ignore. The Commons Environment Audit Committee (EAC) has completed its inquiry into hand car washes (HCWs) and the cross-party group of MPs has produced a report containing hard-hitting criticism of authorities for failing to enforce the law and recommendations on how corrupt HCWs can be tackled.

Turning the tide

The sell-offs of large tranches of their forecourt estates by some of the biggest oil companies has changed the structure of the UK market for most of this century. No one would argue that MRH, MFG, Euro Garages and Rontec would not have been the dominant groups in the Top 50 Indies in 2018, whether or not there had been the sell-offs, but they would be nowhere as big as they are without them.

Deals that dominate the market

After its predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), gave the road fuels market a clean bill of health in early 2013, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has ignored calls for a fresh inquiry and left the sector well alone. But two major deals mean it is now assessing businesses that between them own 18.5% of the UK's forecourts and account for almost a quarter of the road fuel sold in the UK.

A rocky road ahead

The Road to Zero strategy is nothing short of the government's blueprint to phase out two of the bed rocks of the forecourt sector petrol and diesel. While the 'zero' it refers to is emissions from road vehicles, its method for achieving this is prohibiting the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars (excluding hybrids) by 2040, and aiming for close to nil on the roads by 2050.

Conundrums for retail managers

Facing change and challenges are major aspects of the job of a retail manager in the fuels marketing and forecourt retailing sector. Looking at the market now compared with where it was five years ago, there has been significant change and upheaval. There are, however, some things that never change the most important of which is that if you are not looking after your customers and keeping up with or preferably ahead of your rivals and market trends, you are falling behind.

Targeting the cowboys

Years of campaigning by the PRA and Car Wash Association paid off last month when their chairman, Brian Madderson, was invited to give evidence to MPs on the damage unregulated hand car washes are wreaking on the legitimate trade, and the environment. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has used a wide interpretation of its brief to investigate not only the pollution caused by hand car washes (HCWs), but also the harm they cause to sustainability in terms of labour exploitation and other associated criminality.

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Weekly retail fuel prices: 13 January 2020
RegionDieselLPGSuper ULUL
East133.36140.63128.51
East Midlands132.9085.90142.46128.30
London133.2164.57141.59128.81
North East131.51138.84126.57
North West132.01141.35127.57
Northern Ireland129.77132.73125.24
Scotland132.62140.86127.39
South East133.8765.90141.79129.06
South West132.9667.90140.14127.94
Wales132.08136.66127.27
West Midlands132.74141.94128.15
Yorkshire & Humber132.04141.31127.30

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