It’s undercover work so you can’t check it

When you pay more than £60k for underground work that you can’t actually inspect, you have to trust the guy doing the job.

Those of you who receive Petrol Heads-Up from the PRA may have noticed a story recently concerning a contractor fined for ’dangerous’ renovations at a petrol station in Ramsgate, Kent.

The story originated from the Isle of Thanet News, which reported that Canterbury Crown Court was told that the refurbishment work could have caused an explosion. The contractor, Darren Seal, sole director of DJ Forecourts Ltd, was sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £12k in costs. To avoid the fine he put the company into liquidation.

Seal had quoted £62,500 for the work which included removing foam from the tanks, cleaning and lining them, concreting the forecourt, cabling and duct work. Trading Standards visited the site and ordered a full site inspection before a petroleum storage licence would be issued.

Industry experts found rust and sludge inside the tank. A petroleum inspector for London Fire Brigade concluded that the workmanship was very poor and the professionals all agreed there had been potential for a fire or explosion and environmental contamination.

Why do I bring all this up? Because I was alerted to the story by an anonymous forecourt operator, who had paid over £60,000 six years ago to have his underground tanks re-lined. The foreman on-site was a guy called Darren Seal. The forecourt operator said: "It became clear that he had no interest doing any sort of professional job, but with half my tanks out of operation at any given time I had no choice but to let him carry on."

He said that staff had concerns about Seal’s apparent bullying of his much younger colleagues, and his working practices left a lot to be desired from a health and safety perspective.

He complained at the time to the contractor and sent me emails corroborating this. But he adds: "Given that the work was undertaken underground in an environment where breathing apparatus was required, I had little choice but to accept that the photos I was shown of the finished work were actually my tanks and not just some generic ones taken off the internet.

"To add insult to injury, he stole some 80 litres of diesel on his last day. When challenged by his employer he said that the fuel was contaminated and he had put it in the company’s waste fuel tank."

The contractor said they could neither prove nor disprove this, though he was dismissed from the firm shortly afterwards and then set up his own business.

My caller had been alerted to the Ramsgate case by his local petroleum officer.

Given the graphic coverage of the case, it seemed right and proper to spread the word. As for the site in Ramsgate, it is now licensed but at considerable extra cost to put things right.

The power of ATMs

My regular correspondent ’Gassing Around’ asked for an opinion on ATMs as he is considering having one installed.

I think it’s tricky these days. Not only has the call for cash dwindled but ATM network Link introduced a cut in interchange fees in July and the jury is out on whether there will be more to come (Link has cancelled its next cut which was scheduled for January 2020 and the 2021 one will be reviewed next year). On top of that the word is that business rates could be further affected. According to Preston-based chartered surveyor, Ken Batty, there is currently an Upper Tribunal case being heard on whether or not rates can be charged on internal ATMs similar to charges on hole-in-the-wall ATMs. Makes you wonder what next in the money-grasping business rates world a tax on the number of shelves you have?

Why we need a ’go compare’ site

In the last issue we featured a retailer who had been wooed by all the big fuel suppliers with their various ’packages’. He had been a Texaco dealer for 25 years and wondered whether it might be time to switch.

On examining the deals he decided to stay put but he also turned to the PRA to double check his figures. He reported back: "It has been confirmed that my own calculations were correct. There was almost £375k difference in gross profits over five years between my best offer and worst offer." That is a