Saturday, November 03, 2012

Shock closure of K&A canalside pub

The Barge Inn at Honeystreet.  Picture by Bob Naylor: WaterMarx©
The popular canalside pub, The Barge Inn, on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Honeystreet has shut up shop and sacked all its staff without notice.
When previous landlords, June and Adrian Potts, retired after running the pub for 17 years the pub was taken over by The Barge Inn Community Project in August 2010 using a £430,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund in association with the BBC TV programme 'Village SOS'.
Popular with canal users and croppies
The pub has always been popular with local people and canal-users in general — and particularly with crop circle enthusiasts who have flocked to the pub from all over the world to study the creations in cornfields nearby.
Business sold as going concern
It has been repeatedly reported that the community buy-out saved the pub from closure — and the management team running the pub never did anything to correct that impression — but former Landlord, Adrian Potts, said that they sold the business because they were retiring — as a going concern.  "The community group offered to buy the business for the asking price which was a fair market price — so it was sold to them" he said. And he went on to say, "there was never a possibility of the pub closing."
Stills from the BBC news programme:
'How Clean is Your House' co-presenter
Aggie MacKenzie — and the ceramic sink.
How clean is your kitchen?
From the outset the community group committee worked closely with the BBC because of the Village SOS Project funding — and as part of this link the TV programme 'How clean is your house' came and filmed at the pub. Some film from the programme was shown on the local BBC TV station as a news item and portrayed the pub as being in a filthy and disgusting state. Mysteriously the actual programme never saw the light of day and Adrian Potts describes it as 'wholly innacurate'. "We paid a commercial cleaning company to come in when we moved out and they spent a whole day making sure that the kitchens were absolutely spotless before we handed it over " he said. "Yet the film that appeared on the local TV news showed a disgustingly filthy ceramic sink that they said was in our kitchen — but we have never ever had a ceramic sink in our kitchen — this was a total misrepresentation of the facts"
Community Project?
Although it was heralded as a community project the group ignored the massive local objections to a major music festival at the pub and they went ahead with the festival which was not a financial success — the following year the site for the music was moved many miles away to an isolated site on the Marlborough Downs — with festival-goers being bussed from the pub to the event.  Little is said of this event, but it is doubtful that it even covered its costs.
The project's first accounts declare massive losses
The accounts for the business while it was being run by the community project show a business that was failing from the outset. The accounts for the period ending May 2011 showed that the trading company's liabilities exceeded its total assets by £56,517. In a note lodged with Companies House with those accounts senior statutory auditor, Andrew Coombes, said: "The financial statements indicated the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern'" and he warned that the financial statements did not include the 'adjustments' that would result if the company was unable to continue as a going concern.

"The financial statements indicated the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern"
Andrew Coombes, auditor of accountants of David Owen & Co., Devizes
Community project still in deficit after busy summer trading
The accountants again expressed their concerns about the company's ability to continue as a going concern in a note with the accounts that covered the period to the end of September 2011 when they only showed a net profit of £19,676 after the busy summer period — and with the winter, which is always a quiet time for isolated canal side pubs, still ahead. At that time their current liabilities exceeded the total assets by £43,146 — and they had net liabilities at that time of £50,192.
£100,000 VAT debt?
The chairman of the buyout group, John Brewin, told the local newspaper, The Wiltshire Gazette & Herald,  that there was a large VAT debt but he would not confirm the £100,000 figure which is rumoured locally, He said, "We did try to register for VAT but we had the most awful problems." He also admitted to the paper that their running costs were far higher than those of the previous tenants and after a very poor summer their trade had fallen away completely.  It is alleged that their wage bill for a nine-month period was £166,000.  When asked how this compared with his wage bill former Landlord, Adrian Potts said: "Our total wage bill for a full year was between £60,000 and £70,000. I just cannot see how they could possibly afford to spend that sort of money on staff costs."
Newspaper comments
The story in the Gazette & Herald has attracted many critical comments including: "This is the second time a large sum of public money has seemingly disappeared down a black hole chasing a concept that many of us thought spurious anyway. The Pewsey PACT centre was bad enough but this is appalling. It is time that the Lottery Commission were instructed publicly to account for their actions and more notice was taken of whether the whole community were behind the project in the first place."
Pub to "remain closed pending stage two refurbishment"
While the pub is closed its owner, Ian McIver of Honestreet Ales is continuing work on the re-building of the adjacent barn to create an arts venue and a new sign has appeared on the door of the pub saying that the pub will "remain closed pending stage two refurbishment".

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