I’ve had the good, the bad and the helpful on the subject of licensing in the past couple of weeks. Steve Keast, who runs Daw-to-Door Stores in Doncaster, is an ex-military man and he’s all for sting purchasing. He says: “There should be more of it, and when these outlets are caught selling to minors they should be dealt with hard.”

Verbal warnings and slapped wrists, he adds, won’t get us anywhere when it comes to clamping down on underage alcohol sales. He goes as far as saying: “So what if test purchase minors lie about their age? If you are doing your job correctly, they won’t get away with it.” He does include a tip. “The best move I’ve ever made to help beat this problem is to stop selling all forms of white cider. It’s working! Even my refusals register is starting to gather dust.”

So for him, it’s a good thing. Not everyone will agree, though, and certainly not Alan Parker from Eagle Post Office in Lincoln. His furious email arrived a couple of days after Steve’s call, along with copies of letters to the chief constable and his MP Douglas Hogg. On the Friday before Christmas, a member of Alan’s staff sold one bottle of beer to a lad who, it transpired, was being filmed in store by a special constable. They left but the special then came back in with a uniformed constable who proceded to harangue the female member of staff in front of the customers. “Would they have done this in Morrisons, in front of a queue?” asks Alan. No, I doubt it. Eventually, Alan and his wife persuaded the officers to conduct the interview in their private quarters. The staff member was told she could pay an £80 fine or go in front of the magistrates. She works four hours a week and earns £20.20 and has a 21-year-old son. She thought the ‘customer’ looked just as old as her son and therefore did not challenge him. Alan, who makes very little on alcohol sales but sells it just to complete his offering, will be paying the fine for his staff.

And, finally, here’s the helpful bit on the official side of licensing. Manjit Singh Cheema is chairman of the Asian Business Association (ABA) in the North East. He is also a magistrate and has noticed that many retailers are having to sit the new personal licence exams in a second language. “If you need to take the course and English isn’t your first language, we can put you in touch with the Bernecova Association, which offers a free translation service in the North East. The next two-day course is February 6-7,” says Manjit.

You can either ring the ABA on 0191 567 5353 for more information, or call Bernecova direct on 0191 281 3520.