Do you bank with Santander? If so, have a close look at any direct debits timed in the first half of February.

I am passing this on from Laura and Joe Brown who run St Maybyn Post Office and Stores in North Cornwall. The alarm bells rang when PayPoint and HMRC notified them that direct debits timed between February 10 and February 13 had been cancelled. However, Santander assured Laura they had not been cancelled.

“The bank statement showed nothing. If a direct debit fails it normally goes out and comes back again at which point the bank will usually say oh, that’s because you didn’t have enough money in the account,” says Laura.

This was not the case and I should add here that Laura used to work in banks so she knows what she’s on about.

PayPoint was, I’m very pleased to report, easily sorted. Not so HMRC.

Laura had insisted on speaking to someone in authority at the bank and he immediately gave her £50 in compensation and agreed to pay her CHAPS to HMRC with no charge. (So Santander accepted some sort of responsibility here although no one to this date has put their hand up and said okay, we pushed the wrong button.)

Then she spent hours just trying to get onto the telephone queue to HMRC to tell them. Since she couldn’t get through, she then wrote to explain the situation but HMRC has yet to reply.

Instead it has responded by sending her a surcharge liability notice for paying the VAT late.

A black mark will remain over the business for 12 months unless she can get through to someone sensible at HMRC: so far not possible.

Will she now switch banks? Laura believes, undoubtedly correctly, that all banks are pretty much the same and anyway, the advantage is that, through Santander, she can pay in at her own PO and therefore effectively get paid for it.

But was she the only one this happened to? We have no way of knowing unless someone else gets in touch. think tank

Working on the gaps I am often asked how suppliers can improve execution and engagement in independents and symbol stores, now that the c-sector has become more important to their businesses (78% of suppliers say they’re devoting more resources to the c-sector now than in previous years).

I guess the question from suppliers stems from their frustration that, as they see it, implementation and execution is, in their words, patchy at best (only 27% of suppliers say retailers can be relied upon to implement agreed activities). These stats come from our “Future of Convenience Retailing study” 2011 - the 2012 results are out this month.

There’s a great saying that I like to refer to occasionally: Remember when you try to apportion blame (in this case, to retailers, for poor execution), in the hand you use to point a finger at others, there are at least three fingers clenched in your fist pointing right back at you.

In all the years that we have done retailer studies on behalf of suppliers (another one is due out soon), retailers keep saying that the most important thing for suppliers to be aware of is “to understand my business” and “to understand my consumers”.

Why is it then, when I see many supplier ‘field activation strategies’ and ‘retailer engagement plans’ that I rarely see any retailer, catchment, community, market, shopper or consumer insight - or even a desire to go find it?

Luckily, we’re working now with some more enlightened suppliers and field agencies to put insight at the heart of their strategy, and see it as a critical investment to optimise performance, rather than viewing it as a cost or drain on resources.

There’s also a pressing need for all of us on the supplier side to work in a c-store (not to be confused with merely auditing a c-store) to really understand the pressures of small format retailing.

How many suppliers have had to challenge a group of 19 year olds trying to buy booze from a c-store without photo ID? It suddenly puts planogram compliance checking into perspective. Tom Fender of HIM thinks some suppliers are too quick to blame independent retailers