WHATEVER HAPPENED TO the government’s ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ stance? Someone seems to have forgotten to tell the boys in blue about it. The most common forecourt crime now is the drive-off or the persistent no-means-of-payment customer. And do the police care? Not in most areas. The response is likely to be: ‘Sorry, haven’t got the resources – suggest you get better CCTV – or why not make everybody pay first. That’ll solve your problem and reduce our crime figures.’ There seems to be only a handful of areas where the realisation has dawned that the drive-off merchants are usually up to lots of other crime too. Instead of viewing forecourts as a nuisance, the police ought to look at them in the same way as a game hunter would consider a watering hole. Why go running all over the place looking for your criminal when you can wait for him to come to you?

IN FAIRNESS, HOWEVER, even in those areas where the penny has finally dropped with the coppers (ouch!) the beggars still get away with it due to the magistrates’ head-in-the-clouds attitude. I know of a recent case where there was perfect CCTV evidence. At court, the guy faced a total of 27 different charges. Not just drive-offs but also no tax, no insurance, no MOT, driving under the influence of drugs, possession of a stolen credit card etc. What did he get? A conditional discharge. And what about the government’s promise: ‘We’re going to reduce the bureaucracy on small businesses’? Has anyone thought to tell the HSE about this? Or the people who control the disposal of waste? I reckon we’d need 10 different skips to comply with every bit of the latest classification of hazardous waste. Or what about busy-bodies doing site inspections? We used to get a visit from a Petroleum Officer. Now we get one from the PO, one from Environmental Health to do with vapour recovery, one from Environmental Health to check general safety, one from the water authority to check spillage controls etc. Or what about the Office for National Statistics? I used to get the odd form to complete once in a while. This year I got one that even asked me to fill in how long it took to complete! Two-and-a-half hours actually, not that you’re going to pay me for it. Or how about PAYE and NI? Now it’s also SSP, SMP, paternity pay, student loan deductions… all without any compensation – you even have to pay postage when you send them their stupid bloody forms. And God help you if you make an error and wrongly calculate something – of course, if the tax people make a mistake that’s just unfortunate.

BUT IT’S NOT JUST the government that puts a spin on things. ‘New superstore to open in the area – 200 new jobs to be created’ – sound familiar? What a load of garbage. These days the hypers are so close together that if a new one opens it’s not going to attract customers from miles away. Local people can already get everything they want from the other superstore two miles away, so overall demand in the area won’t increase by that much. And as hypers are, due to their size, more efficient in terms of number of staff employed per pounds worth of sales, you can bet the businesses forced to close down will be employing more than the 200 employed at the new store. But ‘New superstore to open – 350 people to lose their jobs’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

AND FINALLY to Geoffrey Couchman, UK sales director of Imperial Tobacco. In reply to the question ‘Are you selling only price-marked packs through all retail channels?’ in last month’s Forecourt Trader, he stated: ‘Plain packs are available to those retailers who wish to sell below rrp.’ Well excuse me, Geoffrey, but the day after I read that I called at a motorway service station that was selling Richmond kingsize (rrp at the time £3.77) for £4.50 and Richmond Superkings (rrp at the time £3.81) at £4.61. Did you mean to say plain packs are available to those retailers with enough muscle (or bottle) to call your bluff?