Jac Roper looks at supply headaches for one Scottish forecourt owner plus a call to lobby your MP over rising energy prices

Ft - Jac Roper - Service Centre

An uncertainty of supply equals one unhappy retailer. 

I had a call from Manpreet Bawa who runs Burnpark Service Station in Kilmarnock. It operates under the Gulf banner.

He’s been with Certas for five years. Originally the signage was under Pace branding for a 2.5mlpa contract over five years.

Three years into the contract in 2017 it had already reached 2mlpa. Then he signed a new contract for five years for 5mlpa under Gulf. Around that time Certas took on a supply contract with a Shell garage about half a mile away. Manpreet expressed concern but was assured there was nothing to worry about. Manpreet says: “Ever since we have had issues… driver issues, no vehicles, allocations. We keep getting messed about.”

When he called me (July 28) he had had a call about his order of 23,000 litres of fuel asking if he could cut it to 18,000 litres. “Then they said sorry, can’t cover it tomorrow. Then I got a call saying account is on stop. We paid it today. There is no money outstanding.”

This got sorted as a misunderstanding. But Manpreet believes this was a ploy because they couldn’t do a delivery the next day.

He then rang Highland Fuels which said it could supply once it had permission (as per the contract).

At this point during our conversation he got a call back from Certas and he put them on speaker phone so that I could hear too. The Certas bod claimed it was Brexit, and general fuel shortages at the root of the problem. There was an argument about the Shell station never running out. Manpreet said he drives past Shell every day and it has fuel.

He subsequently sent me a screenshot of conversations plus emails to two different Certas people. One said the tanks were “dry on three occasions in the past four weeks”.

Another said there had been no deliveries for eight days and the garage had shut for three days. It also mentioned 16 calls to Certas people with no response.

I put all this to the company and a spokesperson responded: “We have spoken to Mr Bawa about this matter, and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“However, the unprecedented issues the industry is currently facing have meant that most suppliers have suffered problems relating to the delivery and supply of products. Consequently, forecourts across the country suffered periods of being out of stock. Nevertheless, we have been able to supply Mr Bawa’s site with its contracted volume in the first six months of the year.

“We acknowledge that we have been without an area manager in the location where Mr Bawa’s site operates due to the sad and unexpected passing of one of our colleagues. However, this position has recently been filled, and our usual customer contact will resume.

“Finally, the neighbouring site referred to (Low Glencairn Street, Kilmarnock) is operated by Certas, but a third party makes the supplies to the site.”

When I checked back with Manpreet in August he said he was getting deliveries every day. But he also said that his forecourt would reach 5mlpa by December and he will then be out of contract and therefore leaving Certas.

Put it on ‘paper’, make it official

I expect you are worried about the one-way direction of your energy bills. Both the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the PRA have urged emergency government intervention over the rising costs.

The ACS said it was trying to get a sense of the overall usage and costs in the sector. One thing it advises is that retailers should consult an expert to ensure they are getting the best rates available and they recommended John Lyons (johnvlyons@lineone.net). Communications director Chris Noice said: “To date, the government and Ofgem haven’t given any indication that there will be a cap for business energy costs. We’re looking, at the moment, at what the most effective intervention on energy looks like to help retailers.”

No one wants to see whole, already-reeling industries wrecked over this so I would also recommend that every one of you writes to your MP. You may have never done this before. But just outline what you are paying per unit and what you will be paying and any other information you can muster. Such as bills three times as high as previous.

If you would like a constituency card to send to your MP, please contact Chris Noice at chris.noice@acs.org.uk (these contain information about the number of c-stores in your constituency, as well as the number of jobs that those stores provide).

Never underestimate the power that members of parliament have. If enough of you write there will surely be some action. There is strength in numbers.

You can email your queries, news and views to Jac@roper-biz.co.uk or call 0208 8502 9775