== The easy tick in the book ==

The first speech by a new prime minister at his first party conference gets a close hearing. Thus it was particularly frustrating that Gordon Brown chose to single out independent off licences at the recent Labour conference and threaten to revoke licences of those selling to the under-aged as though they were the true villains of the piece.

It got up Mike Andrews’ nose too. He runs Maiden Newton Service Station in Dorchester and he observes: "We had an incident last year when a parent rang me up stating that his 14-year-old son had come home drunk on cider which had been purchased from my Spar store. As a shopkeeper I was absolutely livid that one of my staff had sold alcohol to an under-aged person; if knowingly done it has always been an immediate sackable offence.

"However we have a very, very good surveillance system which records onto a hard drive, and when I explored this, I found that an older person had bought the cider gone up the road and given it to the lad in question. I rang the boy’s father, explained it all to him and he was very grateful for my efforts. The next thing I did was ring the police. Need I tell you what they did? Absolutely nothing. All my concerns and efforts and the police can’t be bothered to do anything about it.

"Yet the prime minister says the police are to be given greater powers. Why don’t they use the powers they already have, or do they look for the easy tick in the book which meets their criteria.

"Had I or my staff actually sold to an under-aged person, and sometimes it’s very difficult to tell how old they are, or the police set up a sting, they would have delighted in trying to slaughter me. I myself nearly sold cigarettes to a young lady whom I would have sworn looked 20-plus but as I was about to hand over the cigarettes, the young lady smiled and showed a beautiful set of wires on her teeth. I then challenged her about her age and she just walked out. What luck.

"Perhaps before we get such stupid suggestions from the prime minister, he should heed the old Indian saying, and walk a mile in our moccasins. Then he might know what the real world is all about."

== Lying is now fair game ==

In view of the above story I thought it might be worthwhile to pass on the gist of an interview I did recently with Sharon Sawyers, lead officer for age-restricted sales at the Trading Standards Institute and a trading standards officer with 18 years’ experience.

First be warned that test-purchasing officers can now use young people tarted up to look older than they are and, if challenged about their age, they can lie. This used to be against Home Office guidelines. And the local authorities regulatory service, Lacors, also changed its best-practice guidance 18 months or so ago. "Young people will lie so the guide was changed to allow for lying. And also traders were getting wise to the fact that TSOs plants don’t lie," says Sawyers. "The only way to ensure you won’t get stung is to ask for ID, for anyone who looks 21 or under."

She adds: "There are some very good training packages around, so retailers should contact their TSO for help. Do your training and keep a record of it. Get some signage for staff to point to - it will help them handle difficult customers. Some stores are doing ’integrity testing’ where they send in their own test purchasers to branches. So they are making sure that it’s not just the system is in place but that the system is working. Make sure you use adults for this. Only TSOs and the police can use people who are under the age of 18 for test purchasing."

Sawyers also suggests checking on how often staff are refusing and whether some are refusing more than others. "You might want to change your shifts so that those who are more timid are put on at times when there is likely to be less trouble."

She recently did some work experience behind the counter in an independent’s store. One of the oddities she discovered was that the busiest times for the under-aged trying to buy alcohol was during the early part of the week rather than the weekend.

The other thing she learned was how difficult it was to get the refusals filled in on time. "Perhaps there could be a possibility of doing it at the end of a shift. I’d like to discuss the whole system with my colleagues."

And on deciding when to challenge? She just challenged everybody, which the host retailer said was quite unrealistic and would tick off his 20-something best booze-buying customers.

== Help is at hand ==

A number of retailers have rung asking about compliance with the latest October legislation on holiday entitlement which was increased to 24 days for full-time employees and on a pro-rata basis for part-timers. There is just room left here to recommend a website from the employment advisory body ACAS.

Its new guide to holiday pay is available, free of charge, from the website: [http://www.acas.org.uk]