Get approval before you improve

Sometimes there is no pleasing the local authorities. Linda Sheppard tells a cautionary tale that anyone who is thinking about making improvements should read.

Linda and Richard have run R&R Motors in the village of Rampton in Nottinghamshire for some 40 years. Their son and daughter are poised to take over soon-ish.

The family recently decided on a shop refit that amounted to a total transformation. "I come down in the morning and don’t think it’s our shop any more," says Linda.

The store, branded Today’s, features Nisa promotions so they thought it would be appropriate to put up a sign outside highlighting them. "The 6ft x 3ft signage board explained all the services," says Linda, "and we put a canopy over the entrance. We also put up a wall to stop children running out into the road."

Somebody didn’t like it, complained to the council and the planners showed up. They suggested that the Sheppards apply for retrospective planning permission.

The signs have had to go except for the MOT one. So, no more specials indicated to the passing trade. The application was refused on the grounds that it was "excessive" and resulted in an obstruction of the highway.

The Sheppards still don’t know about the protective canopy and the wall to stop the kids running into the road. They have hired a solicitor and submitted some photographic evidence but they won’t know the outcome until possibly later this month.

"We made it all look nice and thought everybody was happy," says Linda (although clearly not quite everyone). She adds: "But now we no longer qualify for rate relief and we have to pay £1,000 a month in rates." So it has cost a packet or two. I suppose you have to ask yourself: what would happen if there were no restrictions on what businesses can do to create that ’come-hither’ look to shoppers? It could turn out to be ’Blackpool Move Over’ in some cases.

In the Sheppards’ case, well, they have been in the village for decades so I’m sure they did nothing to ’lower the tone’. Why would they?

Many retailers are unaware that permission is usually required to put up awnings and lighted signs, advertising boards or to create more parking spaces.

So be warned: if you want to illuminate, if you want to have a certain colour fascia (and happen to be in a conservation area), in fact, whatever your plans, check them out first with the planners.

And it sometimes pays to get a professional architect involved.

I hope to bring good news in time over the Sheppards’ second half of the battle.

Playing it for all it’s worth

Good, reliable staff can be the making of a business. But what about when it all goes pear-shaped?

A retailer got in touch over a member of staff who had been on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for 28 weeks for a rather serious operation (albeit one that, it turns out, could be delayed). Previously she had been absent twice for some time for non-specific ailments (I am trying to keep this as anonymous as possible because it isn’t over yet).

She only works part-time but the retailer has had to pay her SSP for the past six months and rearrange staffing accordingly.

When he received her last sick certificate ending on an appointed date, which took her over the 28 weeks, he duly sent her a SSP1 form. He then received a letter telling him how much better she was and that she was willing to come back to work. He then heard from reliable sources that the woman had requested not to have her operation for two months as she had learned she was entitled to six months’ SSP.

He no longer trusts her and asked: "Is there any way that I can terminate her employment? I wondered if I could make her redundant on the basis that, due to the current economic climate, I had to make cutbacks and, as she was the only part-time member of staff, then her job has to go?"

It does sound like his ’employee’ (I use the term loosely) is playing the game. But there are certain procedures to be followed if you want to get rid of staff and his best bet is to contact ACAS.

Whereas ACAS, the government’s conciliation and arbitration service, has a remit to improve working relations between employers and employees, at its ’Employerline’ the advisers only help and support employers and business owners. They really can offer free expert advice to those who have employment issues. The number to ring is 0844 875 0087.

Chilling out after a long, hot summer

No sooner had the headlines appeared assuring that we would have 10 more miserable winters and non-existent summers, than the sun decided to put in an appearance. So, lots of places have had some glorious summer. Better than the Med at times.

It does have a downside though. Chillers break down under the strain and condensers go kaput.

Get regular services from an engineer and do your own inspections. Check the temperature, make sure stock doesn’t go over the fill lines and ensure the grills aren’t blocked and the fans are in working order. Without good housekeeping, the minute the temperature goes up, your coolers will go down.