A pain in the cashflow

Quite an Easter wasn’t it? What with a hole in the wall cash machine being blown up into a much larger hole at a petrol station in Weyhill, Hampshire, while Steve Jones was busy getting sued by a policewoman after the poor dear tripped on his Nun’s Bridges forecourt kerb in Thetford, Norfolk, while investigating a potential incident. Both made front page news in the nationals.

But behind the scenes there were large numbers of retailers suffering sudden pains in the cashflow owing to back charges on their BP/Shell card transactions when Rontec ended its polling contract with GB Oils on March 31.

As with all things concerning financial services, it was complex and confusing. Sheila Gee broke the news to Forecourt Trader first. Her ex-Total now Gulf site at Wednesbury, West Midlands, was expecting a £7,000 payment from Rontec for BP/Shell card transactions. Instead Rontec deducted £5,500 in back charges. "They took it off money owed to us so we couldn’t do anything about it we couldn’t stop the direct debit."

She contacted the legal team at RMI Petrol for advice. Brian Madderson, chairman, confirmed to us on April 4: "This has been a bombshell to many independents. We can confirm that several (double figures) have made direct contact with the PRA legal helpline for advice. The advice has been to seek full details of the transactions and reasons for the precipitate clawback from Rontec."

Mrs Gill from Meridian Service Station in Newent, Gloucestershire, lost less money but was appalled at the speed. "They notified us and took £1,600 within 20 minutes."

Susie Hawkins from Simon Smith Group says they got nine days’ notice, although three of them were over Easter. In Simon Smith Group’s case, charges for the three Total sites came to £8,241.

It would appear that some 190 dealers were affected by the move. All had been under-charged.

GB Oils responded to my request for a comment by saying that it had been disappointed that there had not been more time to consult with dealers ahead of the event.

However, it understood that Rontec had found itself in a difficult position with significant losses accruing as a result. Ramsay MacDonald, retail director at GB Oils, says: "It had been the intention of GB Oils to launch an alternative card platform for its dealers in early 2014; now as a result of recent events, this programme has been accelerated. It is hoped that the new technical platform will be in place and operational by mid-summer. In the meantime, we are working alongside Rontec to ensure that our dealers have a fuel card and card polling facility incorporating fuel card acceptance."

He offered three ’crumbs of comfort’ for affected dealers:

1. From April 1, GB Oils has been working so that the merchant service charges for acceptance of Shell and BP cards are managed and recharged by GB Oils.

2. As a result, from April 1, the merchant service charge has been reset at 1.7% so going forward dealers should not be any worse off than previously and should be able to continue to take the cards with all the attendant shop and other non-fuel benefits this has. GB Oils has been working to formalise direct relations with both Shell and BP to help strengthen matters for dealers in the longer term.

3. For any dealers struggling to cope with these events, GB Oils will view this sympathetically and look at ways it may be able to help. Dealers in this situation should contact their GB Oils area manager.

Pole-axed? A cure!

How’s this for innovation? Mike Stayte says he was fed up with lorries hitting the projecting price pole at his Wild Goose Garage site in Dursley, Gloucestershire. "After the last incident, a brainstorming session between ourselves and Lee Stocker of Central Maintenance Solutions came up with the solution of putting the prices in the canopy. We think it’s very effective, although the local planning officer has not seen it yet! On a serious note, we have removed a complete pole and just increased the canopy by a slight amount, so I cannot believe we will get hassle."

Rachel King, manageress of John Stayte Services’ three sites, says that the pole at Wild Goose was damaged twice in the space of two months. In fact, they are so pleased with the result that they are thinking of repeating the exercise at a second site which is also getting knocked about by lorries.

I’ve seen the pictures and it’s looking good.

Plugging the electric gap

Just as there are those who insist we are just coming out of/just going into an ice age whereas others predict imminent meltdown from global warming, so the debate accelerates on electric cars. Will they wipe out gas tanks forever or has the spark gone out of sales?

Well, just to fuel things, I add what I read recently via online motoring magazine Motortrades Insight. Ian Hobday, chief executive officer of Liberty Electric Cars, is quoted as saying: "I can tell you that there will be a vehicle that will do Land’s End to John O’Groats on a single charge next year."

The vehicle will be capable of a range between 837 to 1,000 miles four times the furthest range of electric cars that are currently available on the market.

Potentially a car would be capable of reaching far into Europe without need for a recharge.