== Just following orders ==
The trouble with red tape is that those adminstering it are just following orders. And the trouble with the orders is that they always seem open to interpretation because they are written in government-speak. Furthermore there are more than 400 local authorities doing the interpreting.
I was intrigued to hear then that Philip Tout can sell booze whenever he wants to from his newly revamped forecourt store at Langford, just outside Bristol.
He recalls: "I wanted the biggest site possible so when we got to the planning stage I called out the trading standards officer (TSO) to see if I could box off some of the areas to avoid the Sunday Trading Act, because this is a 24-hour store. The TSO looked it up and said that because it was a petrol station, we were exempt anyway and we could be whatever size we liked. I asked him to put it in writing and he did."
The 3,200 sq ft site now averages £85,000 a week through the store and it must be a good one as it recently won the overall Budgens ’store of the year’ prize and was awarded first place in both the ’forecourt of the year’ and ’best confectionery retailer’ categories.
Susie Hawkins, who has six sites, and regularly wins awards, says that the various local authorities she has to deal with all have different interpretations of the numerous rules. "Philip is lucky. He has that golden piece of paper. But I don’t know anyone else who has managed to get it in writing from their own authority. None of us dares to challenge it."
It would be useful to hear from anyone out there who has.
== Supervisory switches ==
Even central government sometimes becomes aware of the tangled interpretations of its edicts by local authorities. Witness the recently-revised guidance on licensing laws, hailed by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) as "a victory for common sense". ACS bosses say that government guidance now makes it clear that a personal licence holder does not have to be on the premises at all times when alcohol is sold. Previous wording of the guidance led various local authorities to equally various interpretations.
The new guidance also encourages a ’Challenge 21’ policy and recommends that local authorities make this a licensing condition.
And, listen up at the back there and take note: as part of The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, a new offence of persistently selling alcohol to children was introduced this May. This deems that an offence will have been committed if alcohol is unlawfully sold on three or more occasions in a period of three consecutive months from the same premises.
== Local picture, local threat ==
When you’ve lived somewhere for a while you get used to your local stores. They give you a bit of a cosy feeling when you shop there. I’m speaking as a consumer of course, although I realise you see it from a different perspective.
I have lived ’locally’ where I am now in north-east London for 25 years. So it was with some surprise that I found myself falling into a sort of rage in my local Murco forecourt shop. I didn’t mean to, I was late for the gym. But there I was, on a Saturday, in a queue when the shop assistant said very politely to the guy in front of me, "Sorry, do you have ID?"
"Nah, do I need it?" asked the customer who quite swiftly turned from being a ’customer’ to hard done by and tough to boot. The kid added to the sales assistant: "Man, ahm nine-een. Wot is going on?"
I have to say I launched into a long diatribe in an attempt to explain ’Wot exactly is going on’. Why are these kids just not aware at all about current law? For his part the ’yoof’ just kept staring at me with his eyebrows doing some sort of street dancing as though I was the funny-peculiar aunt they sometimes trot out at family gatherings.
He left noisily but he didn’t punch anyone and the sales assistant was so grateful to be supported in this impossible situation that I nearly decided to stand duty for the rest of the afternoon. But it shouldn’t be bloody necessary.
== More local news ==
If you are anywhere near local produce suppliers you should give them a go in your store. Guy Warner, who has five stores, two of them on forecourts, stocks local produce in all of them. True, he does trade in lovely old Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire, but it’s still worth a look around wherever you are. He took the risk and it paid off. "It’s something the multiples just can’t do," he says.
And of course, it’s all the rage darling, less carbon footprint, supporting local growers etc. If you do it don’t forget to put up some signage to say so. Even those whizzing by in their already-full gas guzzlers might stop and buy.