== Communications R not us ==

Even though most of the old public service institutions now have competition, it would seem that the old take-it-or-leave-it attitude is still harboured in some sectors. Denis Lawrence and fellow director Elaine Zamroz, rang with the story of their saga with BT. They run Lawzam Ltd, a business which includes a service centre and 2,500sq ft c-store plus modern café (breakfasts, afternoon teas and roasts on Sundays) situated in a delightful landscaped garden (benches and gazebos and a view of the River Wye) on the A470 at Powys in mid Wales.

A couple of months ago they had notification that they needed to switch from the BT Highway line to an ISDN ’2E’ line by the end of July to continue to take credit cards and this was verified by Texaco Card Services. The pair decided to look at installing a whole new phone system at the same time. The lady rep visited a couple of times, recommended a system and they took her advice and signed the contract. From then on an admin screw-up ensued.

"We said just don’t come on the week commencing July 22 as that’s the Royal Welsh Show which is very hectic for us," says Elaine. "She agreed but then in the middle of that week the engineer arrived. He said it would only take an hour and as the deadline was close we agreed." However, the engineer didn’t have the right job sheet. He cut off the old line but couldn’t install the new one. "It was a complete disaster," says Denis. "For two days we had to trade totally in cash."

After some high-level complaining a sympathetic bod at BT did arrange to put the old line back - otherwise it would have been weeks. When the engineer arrived again to make the switch, he realised that, yet again, he had the wrong paperwork.

Texaco has admitted there have been problems and has moved the deadline. "If only we had known that we wouldn’t have let the engineer in in the first place. We lost at least £3,000 over it," says Denis.

They are not hopeful of any compensation. Last year they had four BT lines out for four weeks and were given the grand sum of £158 compensation.

== Cheering Sunday news ==

I’ve been reporting all over the place about Philip Tout who runs three forecourt sites in the West Country. His recently-refurbished site at Langford, outside Bristol, won him overall first place in the Budgens store of the year awards. When he joined the group he wanted "the biggest site possible, so when we got to planning stage I called out the trading standards officer 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, because this is a petrol station, you are exempt anyway - you can be whatever size you like. I asked him to put it in writing and he did."

Not many forecourt retailers, other than those on motorways, seem to know this. Now I have unearthed the official ruling.

Large shops exempt from the Sunday Trading Act 1994 (which says that shops with an internal floor area of more than 280 sq m can only open for six hours on a Sunday) include petrol filling stations.

So, you could expand if you wanted to.

== Don’t go west young man ==

I lived in Canada for 18 years once, in a former life, and have just returned from two weeks there for a big rambling family affair to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. This meant lots of to-ing and fro-ing through the province of Ontario which is one of the 10 Canadian provinces (and generally regarded as the most sophisticated) and one of many into which you could drop the whole of the UK and several other EU countries and still get change. It therefore also obviously meant a lot of road miles and visits to various gas stations.

Usually the shops were small and the services a funny hybrid as they often are in the Stateside versions: ie dry cleaning plus all-day breakfast/ice cream parlour as the main attractions, or cut wood/fast food. The last one we refuelled at had a window sign offering ’Snacks, fishing tackle, dairy products, movies and worms for sale’. Inside, alongside the ATM machine and quite a few forlorn half-empty general-purpose shelves, was a big display of folding knives aimed at the local huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ fraternity (as they are known in them-there parts). But there was also a big responsible sign pointing out the ID requirements for purchase.

Many of the stations there are still full service and some a mix of full service and self service. Very few, were pre-pay or pay inside. You did get the feeling that crime would not be a priority there. Not a great deal to steal (certainly no booze, given the strict Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and most of them had weapons to hand, like the knives, just in case.

Oh, and by the way, didn’t the locals bleat the minute the cost of a litre of gas crept close to a dollar (which is literally half the cost here). It always has been, and still is there, a BIG topic of conversation.