I'm going to advise everyone to keep a close watch on their local councils now that they are to become more powerful. It might result in some good news. On January 3 the government announced it was scrapping parking charge guidance to local councils, which currently instructs tThe rules on proxy sales of cigs to kids

David Warne sent me a query via his iPhone. (I'm always impressed by new technology, but email/iPhone doesn't give me a clue as to the whereabouts of my correspondent.)

Anyroad, David asked: "Could you tell me if the law has been changed yet regarding proxy sales of cigarettes to those underage, or is it still legal?"

The answer is: it depends where you are. The Scottish Parliament recently passed legislation to make this illegal, but in England and Wales no such law has been passed. It is regarded as difficult to enforce.

hem to put up parking charges to get people out of their cars and onto public transport (and which has been badly abused). Decentralisation minister Greg Clark said the change in regulation would allow councils to decide on suitable pricing for parking, and not be restricted by government guidelines.

A lot of retailers could benefit from a relaxation in parking in their neighbourhood, although in likelihood the charges will remain in place (but might not go up). If local authorities do put them up anyway, then this will have been a canny move on the coalition's part to make the councils the bad guys.

Make no mistake, councils can be tyrannical and entirely missing in common sense. In 2006 (it says in my files) Dudley Council fined a Methodist minister £75 for 'advertising'. He had erected a cross outside his church.

And, as I compose this, Radio 4's PM programme is running a story about Bedford Borough Council, which threatened a citizen with a £1,000 fine for 'fly posting'. His cat had gone missing and he had put some posters up on trees.

Then I have my own evidence from calls every month. Malcolm Wright, for instance, trading as Vauxhall Street PO in Norwich, is classified as a PO, newsagent, tobacconist, and seller of fancy goods and leather goods.

He has had a letter from the local council saying he mustn't sell household goods. It was a new clause inserted into his lease to protect another store nearby, which sells a wide mix. It just sounds daft, but he has had to get a lawyer on the case.

In Nottingham the Kaur-Singhs have a similar, but somewhat in reverse problem. The council has allowed the Post Office next door to add groceries, but has told Mrs Kaur to stop selling groceries from her CTN. She's looking at consulting lawyers, too.

And, finally, how about this one? Arshid Raseed had a grocer's shop in Glasgow from 1994 to 2004. He paid all the council rates, but has now received a letter from the district council informing him that he owes rates amounting to £4,800 for the years 1999 and 2001. He no longer has any paper work and, after 10 years, neither does his accountant.

I have recommended a chartered surveyor who may be able to help with these awkward negotiations.

Topics