Retailers are continuing to contact me with tales of licensing wrangles with their local authorities. The latest was Barry Nuttall, who has traded from the same site on a quiet residential estate in Preston, Lancashire, for 24 years. “We have never had any trouble,” he told me. “All we ever needed to know about licensing was whether someone was 18 or not. I only stock around £200 of alcohol and sell less than £100 worth a week.” He handed in the forms to Preston Council on time and drew up his own plans after having a discussion with the council. When the deadline had passed, the council informed him that the form was inaccurate and that it had to be totally accurate – although they did not specify what exactly was wrong with it. He has been told he must now go on a course for a new personal licence, costing £150. Barry has worked out that the new fees, the course, the advertising space he has to buy and so on will add up to around £400. “I think I’ll just cease to sell alcohol,” he told me.

David Rees, deputy editor of Convenience Store, sat a licensing exam not long ago (as a journalistic rather than retailing pursuit) and, as he observed in a leading article (C-Store August 26), the whole idea of an exam to test your skills at selling alcohol, or deciding when to refuse to sell it, struck him as odd. He pointed out that the new licensing system has been compared to the vehicle registration system – the premises licence is the car tax and the personal licence is your driving licence. So taking the exam is like trying to pass your driving test without being in a car. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) recently gave evidence to the Licence Fees Review Panel and warned that small businesses that do not rely on alcohol for the bulk of their profit would be badly and unfairly hit. The FSB has called for a sliding scale fee system. The Association of Convenience Stores has also been trying to find out just how all this money accrued by councils would be spent. Many retailers have already suggested that some councils see this as a licence to print money. It’s difficult to disagree. And to continue the vehicle analogy, look what a field day local councils had when they were put in charge of parking!