It’s been a busy start to the year for PRA chairman Brian Madderson, as he responds to the many media requests that follow any news relevant to the forecourt retailing sector. In this case, it was the usual flood of calls to appear on national TV and radio to comment on the rising fuel prices.
"It’s all part of the job," stresses Madderson. "We are fighting the corner for independent forecourt retailers, and regular media appearances help to get the message across to the general public about how fuel is priced, how duty and VAT are levied, and also to understand how our industry works."
But it’s not just the general public the PRA has to engage with like any self-respecting trade association, it has to regularly meet with key government departments, ministers and MPs in Whitehall to promote the interests of its members.
In this age of devolution, the PRA has to be active with the Scottish government plus the NI and Welsh Assemblies: "Hence I will be in Edinburgh during February for meetings with Keith Brown MSP, Secretary of State for Jobs & Fair Work; plus Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Transport Policy & the Islands," says Madderson. He has also established regional committees for Scotland and NI whose members will accompany PRA to official meetings.
"The big issues for 2017 are alternative fuels and climate change," says Madderson, which will mean regular visits to the Department for Transport to discuss matters such as ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV); Road Traffic Fuels Obligation (RTFO); fuel quality (filter blocking tendency for diesel); and the HGV levy. Other major ongoing issues being tackled by the PRA team concern the Treasury and HMRC over fuel duty, the rural duty rebate scheme and illicit tobacco controls; and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to consider energy resilience and the National Emergency Plan Fuels.
"My objective for the Association is to achieve greater unity and support from our members to effectively tackle the many issues we face including the introduction of biofuels, the ’demonisation’ of diesel, unfair methodology for Business Rates, forecourt crime, pressure on energy resilience, to name but a few."
Recent research by Experian Catalist identified that nearly 50% of all forecourts still have roll-over and/or jet wash bays, but many suffer from declining income due to unfair competition from hand car washes. Thus a big piece of work the PRA has been tackling should result in a boost to the car washing business for the traditional forecourt operator, according to Madderson: "The war on unregulated hand car washing will really take off this year," he says. "We took part in a research programme run by professor Ian Clark at the University of Leicester. He was researching areas of potential labour abuse on behalf of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) whose scope widens from April 1, when it becomes the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). The Prime Minister Theresa May sponsored the Anti-Slavery Bill when she was Home Office Minister and she has set up the Independent Anti-Slavery Commission (IASC). Her No 10 Policy Unit is overseeing this activity, together with GLA, following the research done by the university of Leicester, and they are targeting hand car washing. This is not just on brownfield sites and old forecourts, but particularly on supermarket car parks and out-of-town retail parks, where there is extensive car parking. So 2017 looks like being a big year for car washing.
"We expect the GLAA, supported by the IASC, to highlight their work on investigating and controlling unregulated hand car washing from spring onwards. This will include human trafficking, labour abuse, tax avoidance and environmental damage.
"This will help to regulate hand car washing, which will have a huge knock-on effect. It means more opportunities for the traditional retailer."
As a result of this activity, the Car Wash Association (CWA) was recently taken under the wing of the PRA. It has four major car wash companies as sponsors IMO, Washtec, Istobal and Wilcomatic.
"The immediate task was to get the main manufacturers supporting this, which they have done, and which is great news," says Madderson.
It’s another feather in the cap for Madderson, who has been striving to improve the value the PRA delivers to its members since he took on the role of PRA chairman in 2009 following a career that included 20 years as managing director of top Kent-based forecourt independent George Hammond plc.
It is a challenge he has always embraced enthusiastically, bringing all his skills and experience as an independent retailer to bear.
He believes the momentum the PRA has built up over the years particularly in recent times is really starting to pay off, with company membership continuing to grow. The PRA’s influence reaches the four corners of the UK England, Wales, Scotland and NI offering a broad and comprehensive range of advice, services, networking events and information, all aimed at helping retailers develop their businesses. Much of the information can be accessed via a dedicated website, regular newsletters, and an annual review of the market. And the service is about to get bigger through being a division of the Retail Motor Industry Federation.
"We can now offer training schemes, through our majority-owned subsidiary Remit," announces Madderson. "This provides another linked-in service to members who might want to take advantage of the Apprenticeship Levy that starts on April 1, by having a tailored package of apprentice training.
"Welcome Break will almost certainly be working with Remit on the Apprenticeship Levy opportunity."
Madderson says Remit training delivers structured apprenticeship programmes nationally and is experienced in supporting businesses in understanding the new apprenticeship levy and developing bespoke apprenticeship programmes tailored to a company’s needs: "Remit work closely with industry bodies and employers to ensure training is relevant, effective and provides high return on investment for the employer and learners. The organisation recently won the Training Journal’s Best Apprenticeship Gold Award in partnership with Starbucks."
Another new development is the RMI Academy a wholly owned subsidiary of the RMI which was established last year to deliver MOT training. "Hundreds of service stations generally the smaller, rural sites still have workshops," says Madderson. "Courses are heavily discounted for PRA members, with several forecourt retailers already having used the facility. A further two training centres are planned in 2017 to cover the north and south of England.
"We are also in the process of signing off a new Primary Authority Partnership that will safeguard members’ interests from incorrect and unnecessary intervention by their local authorities," confirms Madderson. "This has been developed by our two technical gurus, Phil Monger and Ray Blake, who was recently recruited from his role as fuels supremo at the London Fire Brigade. They know more about forecourt regulations than most Petroleum Officers and Trading Standards officials.
"We are planning a national launch with our partner on February 23, but are happy to discuss details with members in the interim."
But that is not all for 2017, PRA is also working on a new relationship with one of the UK’s largest and most relevant trade associations. "These are exciting times for the PRA," adds Madderson.
For more information on PRA activities visit the website: www.ukpra.co.uk
Gerald Ronson - CEO Heron International (Rontec)
"Every industry needs a responsible and professionally-run association to represent it and the PRA is just such an organisation.
"We are a multi-billion pound industry and we need good representation at government level. There’s a lot of change in the industry, and Brian Madderson works very hard doing the best job he can do.
"He and his small team cover a lot of areas of the business I didn’t realise quite how much until recently. We’ve been members for a very long time and will be for the foreseeable future. Yes, it costs money, but everything costs money.
"I’ve been in the business for 50 years and it’s important the PRA is there not just for the bigger groups, but also for the protection of the smaller dealers and this business is full of small dealers.
"The PRA is a responsible body. I was most impressed with its recent Market Review it’s a great document. It’s very important that people read it and understand the market."
LIVE & LOCAL/ROADSHOW DATES for 2017
FEB 15Cheshire Roadshow
MAR 02Plymouth L&L (Future Inn)
MAR 09Belfast L&L (Stormont)
MAR 15Dartford L&L (Hilton Dartford)
MAR 22Scotland Roadshow
APR 5Durham L&L (Ramside Hall)
MAY 18Brighton L&L (Amex Stadium)
SEPT 7Exeter Roadshow
SEPT 21Surrey L&L (Holiday Inn, Guildford)
SEPT 28West Mids L&L (Warwick Racecourse)
OCT 5Chester L&L (Chester Racecourse)
OCT 12Northern Ireland Roadshow
OCT 26Stirling L&L (Stirling Court Hotel)
NOV 9Norfolk L&L (Norwich City FC)
NOV 16Wakefield Roadshow