Is this really such a risky business?

Where do you buy your insurance? Do you switch very often? Does it go up by much when you renew? How about when you make a claim? Have you got a good broker?

I would really like to know if you think you have a reasonable deal on your policy, but most especially Scott Preston would like to know.

Scott, who trades as Tagon Stores, in the village of Voe, Shetland, describes his business as a convenience store that happens to sell fuel. "But the insurance companies all see it the other way around," he says.

When I spoke to him in January, he was waiting for Aviva to get back to him with a renewal quote that he hoped wouldn’t be much more than it had been the year before: £900 to insure a 600sq ft store that has traded for 70-odd years with barely a claim (and never a significant one) on a forecourt site with only 10,000 litres capacity for both petrol and diesel added together, which isn’t huge. And I am sure the good people of Voe are just that good people who are not up to much thieving or hold-ups.

While waiting for Aviva, Scott decided to shop around and spoke to some 30 insurance companies. I use the term ’spoke to’ very loosely. He left queries for quotes. Only two companies got back to him after learning about the fuel involvement. One said it couldn’t come anywhere near last year’s quote and the other quoted £2,500.

"This is for standard shop insurance," he says. "How is it no one can compete with £1,000 premiums?"

It was headline news last Easter when thieves blew up an ATM on a Hampshire forecourt because such crime is very rare in Britain (maybe our crooks are bright enough to know that blowing up a forecourt to rob it isn’t the safest option).

While on the subject, when was the last time you heard of a modern mobile phone sparking a big kaboom on a fuel site?

It’s a pity insurers don’t look at forecourts the same way the licensing authorities now do when deciding whether a retailer can sell booze. If it’s more shop than filling station, it is allowed to act like one and sell the full range.

Once upon a time licensing bods seemed to assume that anyone buying booze from a forecourt store was bound to glug it all down immediately and then start a riot. Possibly start a fire even. They no longer prescribe to that view having worked out that people drive to supermarkets to buy alcohol without getting plastered on the way out of the car park.

And I was amused to see that Newsnight recently sent Top Gear’s Stig to test drive the first pub to open on a motorway service station (on the M40 near Beaconsfield).

Talk about change of heart. So why do insurers regard fuel stations as so risky?

We’re reviewing the situation

This one falls into our ’helping hand’ slot. Some of you will be facing rent reviews or lease renewals this year: be aware these are places with pitfalls.

Step in David Hunter who runs a property consultancy in Leatherhead, Surrey. Here’s a taste of a pitfall. "On rent reviews and lease renewals, the trading ability of the property is probably the most important aspect," he says. "This may or may not be the same as the actual trade being obtained by the tenant in occupation."

He goes on: "One issue which often causes great concern is the aspect of improvements.

"Any improvements which have been made with the landlord’s consent under the lease are disregarded for the purposes of the rental assessment.

"It is however quite frequent that the tenant does not have or cannot find the appropriate Licence for Alterations in order to prove that landlord’s consent has been granted. As you can understand, landlords are often unwilling to search for the appropriate documentation themselves given this has an adverse affect on the rent they receive. It is therefore beneficial for the tenants to keep a good paper trail of correspondence with the landlord and works to the property."

See, that was useful, right?

I have added David Hunter to my ’useful contacts’ list because last year his company helped clients dealing with a diverse mix of automotive properties including petrol stations, car dealerships, car parks, oil depots, workshops and residential development.

He also says he can help with acquisitions or disposals of these specialist properties.

So, like I have, make a note of his number and website: 01372 37114,

Giving you a short cut

In the last issue I mentioned a website that related to specialist finance brokers LDF.

The company came highly recommended by retailer Steve Vaughan because of its manageable loans available to tide forecourt owners over the difficult times that come with peak and trough trading.

Steve was particularly in favour of LDF’s corporation and VAT loans spread over 12 months and three months respectively.

I’ve since been contacted by Peter Robinson, senior account manager with the company, who says LDF is in the process of making changes to the website.

To make it even easier and quicker for anyone wishing to get in touch with LDF, there is a more direct route: email and he will deal with any enquiries personally.