There is an old joke which says the guy who invented the wheel wasn't actually that important: the real genius was the one that invented the other three.

Staff training has long been a priority in the independent sector theoretically at least and symbol groups and training providers have worked very hard in recent years to improve and refine the range and delivery of courses. But the best training in the world won't make any difference unless retailers are given a cost-effective means of providing it, and staff are given a practical and appropriate environment in which to learn.

So I applaud the Retail Academy's relaunched training programme for independents, not as a re-invention of the wheel, but as another means of getting forward motion in this critical area.

For independent retailers to be successful, it is vital they establish an identity in their local area and retain the loyalty of existing customers, as well as attracting new ones. And none of these things will happen without the support and enthusiasm of your staff.

Providing achievable and practical training courses will not only improve the efficiency and professionalism of your operations, it will also encourage staff members to feel part of a wider enterprise that they are using their skills to help develop.

The new Retail Academy offer is a fresh option in a vital field, and another option can only be a good thing to really get retail skills and staff training moving.

Postcards from the pledge

I would urge every reader to find the postcard in this issue calling for a halt to the tobacco display ban, sign it, and post it off to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Regular readers of this publication and my column will know how opposed we are to this piece of ineffective and expensive legislation, so I won't go through the arguments again, but suffice to say that we are supporting the ACS' campaign to get as many retailers as possible to voice their opposition as we have the best chance in two years to get the government to change its mind.

We have included a postcard in every issue including copies going to readers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We realise that retailers here have a regional government or assembly determining policy, but we hope you will consider it important enough to raise at Westminster, too. We need to change the culture of official thinking that expects small businesses to foot the bill for what is basically an unproven social experiment, and every voice counts if we are to achieve that aim.