Neil McCarthy, who runs MPM Services in Suffolk, rang to ask if he had heard right. Was holiday entitlement for workers going up from 20 days a year to 28? And is it a done deal?

Well, he’s almost right. It is actually going up by four days this year (on October 1) and by another four days on Oct 1, 2008. The DTI has just launched a second consultation on the implementation of the changes.

Shane Brennan, public affairs and communications manager at the Association of Convenience Stores, says: "The current reference to a public consultation means they will be consulting on technicalities not on the fundamental changes. We were involved in the earlier consultation but it was a manifesto commitment at the last election. The battle lines were over things like the unions wanting bank holidays to be a separate entitlement."

This would have meant mandatory premium payments for all bank holidays. In fact the press release I had from the DTI notes that some employers currently include the eight bank holidays as part of the workers’ 20-day annual leave entitlement (pro-rata for part-timers) so this seems to me to suggest that these extra eight days will cover this ’anomaly’.

The DTI says the cost to business is expected to be around £4bn a year but goes on to say that the cost of absenteeism is estimated at £11.6bn. This implies that, if you give the workers more holidays, they will pull fewer sickies or ’duvet days’. We live in hope. The additional cost to the wages bill is expected to be around 0.4% of the wages bill.

I suppose it depends on how you do your sums, but Neil says: "Four extra days based on 20 holiday pay days a year represents a 20% per annum increase in holiday pay in the first year."

It could be worse. You could be in Austria - their highest minimum entitlement is 38 days.

== Oops ==

I have a little correction to put in here. ACAS (once known as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration service) rang me after reading my November column on the role ACAS plays in employment issues and in employment tribunals. I advised retailers to always consult ACAS on such issues (dismissal, discrimination and so on) because, if you get it wrong and get taken to a tribunal, it is ACAS who will rule on it. Wrong. It isn’t them sitting in judgement.

They get called in when a claim goes to a tribunal as their job (as I also said) is to promote harmony in the workplace and to try to resolve any problems. "Around 75% of claims are settled in this way," a spokeswoman told me. But, if the problem is not resolved then it goes to the Employment Tribunal Services. "And it is then out of our hands," she added.

She recommends a visit to the ACAS website for its various free employment and e-learning packages. Have a look on []

And I still advise you to consult ACAS on any employment issues as they can help to head them off at the pass and ensure you don’t break any of the rules.

== Turn up for the books ==

One of the received wisdoms about a shrinking market is that those who do survive, through guts, innovation and diversification, also thrive.

John Whittingham makes a fine little cameo for this scenario. He has been in the motor trade since 1964. In 1978 he opened a tiny garage and forecourt in the town of Lansair Caereinion, near Welshpool, in mid Wales. By 1988 he had traded that in for a forecourt with kiosk on the edge of town. He thought the kiosk was enough store for him to handle.

"Then we were persuaded by an Esso rep to put in a proper store - he said ’if you don’t you’ll fall by the wayside’. He had a job convincing me that I’d make any money selling beans," says John.

Noneless, by 2002 he had invested between £100-150,000 in a 1,200 sq ft store, badged as a Londis. He put in some locally-produced cakes and sausages on top of the regular fare and tells me that he has already had a return on his investment.

Recently he was further persuaded to enter his first competition and came first in the Excellence in Forecourt Retailing category. Since it was a Wiseman Dairies award, he clearly didn’t win for the quality of his petrol. "It’s getting more and more difficult with the oil companies," adds John. "Unless you’re doing three or four million litres a year they don’t want to know. The store obviously makes more profit than the fuel side of the business, which I found difficult to believe at first. I now think that there is money to made in forecourts as long as the store is good."

Following his surprise success, John is now contemplating entering other award schemes. Awards are not just for the money or the trophies - although these are quite nice - but entering forces you to focus on what is right and more importantly, what is wrong or lacking in your business. And any number of retailers have told me that it motivates staff too.