== New Year, new rules ==

If you are licensed and trade in Scotland, make very sure that you don’t sleepwalk into the Scottish Licensing Act 2005 which opens its doors for applications from February 1.

The actual Act doesn’t kick in until September 2009, but between now and then you may need to do a lot of lobbying to keep your licence.

The general political mood is pretty anti as it is believed that there are just too many opportunities to purchase alcohol in Scotland. It will cost all licensees between £2,000 and £3,000 to get their new licences and, for petrol stations, there will be no automatic ’grandfather rights’. Just because you have a licence now, doesn’t mean a new one will be rubber stamped.

Specialist licensing agent Stuart Gibson tells me: "Forecourt sites will need to make new applications. They will only be granted a licence if they are able to demonstrate that persons resident in that area are reliant or will be reliant on the forecourt premises to become the main supplier of groceries or petrol or diesel in that area."

He adds: "It is therefore advisable to begin to gather testimonials from customers and signatures on petitions to this effect. The more evidence they can submit the better the chance they have of succeeding with their application."

And if you do get a new licence you will also have to adhere to the Protection and Improvement of Public Health objective which will severely restrict promotions of alcohol. Buy one, get one free, six for the price of five etc will not be permitted. Nor will cheap case deals. The general rule is, if one can costs £1, then a case of 24 will cost £24.

So it will be a pain in the pocket and the paperwork will be a pain in the backside. If you want some specialist help, ring Stuart at GP Retail Services on 01476 514691. And, by the way, happy Hogmanay!

== Are you losing out? ==

Following my warning about cowboy ratings consultants in the October issue, I was contacted by Paul Sewell, managing director of MUA Property Services. He says: "You are quite right to preach caution and certainly to beware of cold-callers and firms asking for money up front to make appeals or for fees before a case is concluded."

However he seeks to redress the balance pointing out that there are also many reputable chartered surveyors in the field. "Retailers need to check that they are experienced in rating appeals and in dealing with petrol stations." He also points out that many petrol stations are over-assessed with retailers losing out on refunds to which they should be entitled.

"Your readers have some important decisions to make. Not only are the 2005 Rating List RVs still current - these can be appealed for another two years (with refunds back to 2005 in some instances), but the 2010 Revaluation is rapidly approaching. People may not realise, but the 2010 Revaluation will have a 1/4/2008 valuation date and 2007 trade figures will be key to the RV for the period 2010-2015. The Valuation Office (VO) will be sending out forms from February to measure this trade and there is a £100 (minimum) civil penalty for people who do not not complete and return forms within 56 days. If anyone has multiple sites and wishes to submit an electronic return, they will need to do this by the end of February."

MUA’s pedigree, by the way, includes a client list that goes like this: Esso, Shell, Total and large independents such as Malthurst/Pace, Park Road, Aleef, Valli, Rushdene and Roadside (oil companies and dealers have common interests on rates).

Paul Sewell adds: "We are also appointed by UKPIA to attempt to agree a scheme of valuation with the VO or to narrow differences for 2010. The VO will be attempting to analyse rents on petrol stations to produce a scheme so, if any of your readers have any useful evidence I would urge them to contact me (or, if they prefer, the PRA) so that both sides have this information." He can be reached on 0844 322 1300.

== Not better, just different ==

Not for the first time, I’ve run into a forecourt retailer who used to be a farmer. But both were of the same adjusted opinion - the indoor job is just as hard as the outdoor one used to be.

Ray Pluess is in his sixties, and from his BP forecourt site and Londis store, Ray can look out and see some of the land he had farmed all his life on the edge of Camelford in North Cornwall.

Having decided to switch to retailing, Ray and his wife Jacqueline, daughter Michelle and son-in-law Martin, a professional mechanic, threw themselves into sprucing up the business which resulted in quadrupling turnover.

"But I had to change my mind about shopkeepers," says Ray. "They work as hard as farmers.

"I wasn’t expecting the constant work required just to keep the shelves restocked and everything clean and dust-free," admits Ray.