Pub Companies - Business and Enterprise Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Inez Ward

  1.(a)  I contacted Mr X of Unique Pub Company in early August of 2002 with a view of purchasing the lease for The Harvester, later to be changed to Mavericks Public House. I had been given Mr X's telephone number by the then current landlady, Miss Y. A meeting was arranged and the options and views of Unique and ourselves were discussed. We were informed that we would need an initial ingoing of approximately £50,000.00 and that the rent for the lease would be £25,000.00 PA rpi linked. It was explained to Mr X that we were interested if the schedule of works could be ironed out, however we could do nothing until our house had sold as that was where the finances were being raised.

  1.(b)  Mr X arranged a meeting for the end of August/beginning of September 2002 and asked would we consider moving in under a tenancy agreement until we were in a position to sign for the lease. The provisions for the tenancy was a rent of £24,000.00 for the first year rising to £30,000.00 for the second year, this raised some concerns as far as we were aware the rent for the lease would be £25,000.00. When these concerns were raised with Mr X he assured me not to worry about it as we would be signed under the lease by the second year so that part of the tenancy would not come into question. Mr X confirmed that we would receive in writing the figure for the rent on the lease. Our other concern was that we did not have the ingoing for the tenancy of approximately £15,000.00 we informed Mr X of this said that finances could be arranged through a loan. Mr X held no objections to this course of action and so a loan was taken out with Tesco in September of 2002 for a sum of £15,000.00.

  1.(c)  We were due to move in on Wednesday 23 October 2002 under the tenancy agreement, the stipulations being that I had the figure for the rent for the lease in writing and that the pub would be able to trade the day of signing ie. 23.10.02. I arrived at the pub at 10.30 am to meet with Mr X and take over the premises known as The Harvester. Upon arrival I was dismayed to find no Mr X, very little stock and no correspondence with reference to the rent for the lease. I stood for a few minutes and surveyed the carnage unfolding before me, after a short while I decided that perhaps I had made the wrong decision in agreeing to the tenancy. I gathered up the keys which had already been handed to me by that point along with the paperwork, staff uniforms and stools that I had brought with me. As I had left the premises and was making my way across the car park to my car Mr X arrived. I handed Mr X the keys and informed him that I would not be taking on the tenancy due to no beer and the fact that I still had not received in writing the figure for the rent on the lease. Mr X replied that I could have the rent figure for the lease immediately and that perhaps I could borrow some beer from somebody as my beer order would not be arriving until the next day. I informed Mr X that as this was his cock up and not mine he could arrange for borrowing beer as I was not having the embarrassment of on my first day in the trade having to ask to borrow beer, this would bring my abilities into question and was not something that I would wish to do as it was not good for business. Mr X acquiesced and arranged for some beer to be borrowed from The Mermaid and also from Fosters. The beer having been sorted and the figure for the rent on the lease received in writing I considered that all avenues had been covered and therefore moved in.

  2.(a)  By early February Mr X had started to exert pressure for us to sign the lease. Mr X was informed that until the house had been sold then it was not possible for the lease to be signed. He asked that we sign an agreement to lease and this is where the problems really began. The rent had jumped by 20% to £30,000.00pa rpi linked. We refused to sign the agreement until the rent had been reduced to the correct amount that we already had in writing ie £25,000.00. The arguments between Mr X and myself over this issue escalated until the point where he was asked to leave the premises and I barred him until he was willing to discuss these matters in a manner befitting an employee of such a large company. Mr X took umbrage to this statement and informed me that I had no right to do this as it was his pub. I replied to Mr X that as long as I was the licensee I had every right to ask whom ever I chose to leave as long as it was not discriminatory. At this point Mr X left the building, he did return about 20 minutes later with a slightly different approach however the situation had not been resolved.

  2.(b)  In early March 2003 Mr X asked for a meeting to discuss the agreement for lease. At this meeting Mr X insisted that somebody else was interested in signing the lease and that if we didn't sign the agreement at the new rent we would have to leave the premises within four weeks. After careful consideration we decided that we had very little choice, the house had been sold subject to contract, the kids had moved schools, we had given up full time employment and we had already invested a significant sum into the business. We found out at a later date that the alleged people interested in taking on the lease had in fact had no intentions whatsoever. We were made aware of this fact by the people concerned when they came into our pub one night in the summer of 2003. It is my opinion that Mr X misrepresented the facts on two separate occasions ie figure for the rent on the lease and then again to try and harass us into signing a contract that we had no intention of signing. The disagreement over the level of rent has continued from that day to this, even though there is expert evidence to the contrary and Enterprise Inns/Unique Pub Company have never provided a complete breakdown of how my rent was calculated as per the recommendations set in the 2004 TISC report, even though this has been asked for on several occasions of the whole organisation.

  3.(a)  By June 2006 things had become unsustainable and there was a meeting between ourselves and Enterprise Inns there are some points of this meeting that have never been satisfactorily answered. We made our accounts fully available to Mr X and informed him that the rent was unsustainable. Enterprise placed an offer on the table, this was not acceptable due to the un-affordability of the plan. Enterprise Inns were unhappy at our rejection of the proposal and immediately refused to deliver our beer. We offered to pay for the beer order in cash, three days in advance of delivery, this was not acceptable to Enterprise Inns as a result of which we became free of tie in December 2006 as Enterprise Inns had failed to deliver beer for a period exceeding 14 days. By this point we were laughingly referred to as the pub with no beer, this caused me a huge amount of stress and undoubtedly affected the business, I remember crying my self to sleep at nights. I consider this to be harassment as I had made an acceptable offer to ensure that beer would be delivered without me breaking my tie obligations and can see of no valid reason why this proposal would not be acceptable to Enterprise Inns. Enterprise Inns issued court proceedings for forfeiture of lease and the case went to court on 29 January 2007 a consent order was made and maintained and finished one month ahead of schedule. It is my opinion that the period spent free of tie certainly enabled us to fulfil the consent order ahead of schedule. It is also my opinion that the court case was not required as I had always made it perfectly clear that I would repay the outstanding amount at a rate that was affordable, as is proven.

  4.(a)  By the end of July 2007 it was blatantly obvious that the smoking ban, the bad summer and the impending credit crunch was taking its toll on business. This is a business that we had improved on year by year and suddenly hit a 20% downturn in trade, there had been no other disruptions to Mavericks continuing success. As I could see what was happening I started talks with Mr X re reducing the rent and some discounts on the beers purchased. Enterprise put forward an offer which was not acceptable, Mr X insisted that the terms and conditions had not yet been set as he was fully aware that a full on tie to include beers, wines, bottles, spirits and soft drinks would not be acceptable. Mr X was not happy when I took his copy of the terms and conditions and insisted that they were not relevant as they were not personal to Mavericks. When I asked him where the problem was he re-iterated his initial statement.

  4.(b)  Enterprise Inns placed another offer on the table which did appear more favourable so we took it to our solicitor at that time, Mr H for his advice. I felt the need for legal advice as I was unhappy at how Enterprise Inns had conducted previous business and did not wish to make another mistake as in being harassed into signing another contract which was detrimental to ourselves. Mr X informed us not to sign the contract until he had seen the terms and conditions, I felt some safety at this point as I was fully aware that they would not be able to instigate a contract which was detrimental. As my husband and myself left Mr X's office I rang Mr X to inform him that I required the terms and conditions before I could sign any contract as my solicitor wished to check them out. I had also contacted Mr Graham Edward Tuppen, the Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Inns asking for his help in this matter to which I received a reply from Mr X the Regional Director. There was no further contact from Mr X or Enterprise Inns until 28 November 2007. By this point there had been a story printed in the local press with reference to the fact of the boiler having broken down, Enterprise Inns refusal of help unless I signed the contract and a charity night held by the locals.

  5.(a)  On the afternoon of Wednesday 28 November 2007 Mr X rang me, this phone call was taken in the bar. Mr X was trying to arrange a meeting for the following week, I informed Mr X that I would not be able to arrange a meeting after Tuesday 4 December 2007 as I was booked in for a cardiac angiogram on Wednesday 5 December 2007. Mr X was fully aware that I had been experiencing chest pains and also that I was under investigation and had already endured a treadmill test and two nuclear stress tests and that they needed to do an angiogram due to the results of the previous tests. I was as unsure as anyone as to what would happen or how long I would be hospitalised for. At this point Mr X had become very heated so I removed myself from the bar area for fear of upsetting the customers. I again repeated to Mr X my reasons for not being able to arrange a date, he seemed unable to grasp this concept even when I gave him the telephone number for the hospital so that he could verify and confirm what I was saying as he had made it perfectly clear that he did not believe me. By this point I have become very upset and am visibly shaking there was no need for this harassment, I tried pointing out to Mr X that in reality there was no rush for a meeting as I had not yet received the terms and conditions for my solicitor to look at, this induced a rage in Mr X that I really cannot explain. He screamed down the phone at me that I had had a set of T&C.

  5.(b)  By this point I am very upset I cannot control my shaking, crying or temper I shouted back at Mr X stating his insistence that the T&C that I had in my possession was not personal to Mavericks this would appear to be the straw that broke the camels back, he screamed down the phone at me to just sign the contract. At this point I put the phone down on Mr X as I just could not take anymore, I am pretty sure that Mr X used foul language but could not swear to it as I had been so upset at his outburst, especially considering I had only asked for something that by rights they are obliged to give. It took approximately 10 minutes for me to compose myself enough to be able to return to the bar however I was unable to compose myself enough to hide the impact of this telephone call from my regulars who had been in the bar. I was visibly shaking from head to toe and could not control this, I was suffering waves of nausea which eventually resulted in me being sick on several occasions throughout the evening. My heart had been racing ever since the telephone call and no matter how much I tried to calm down nothing would work long term. There were periods of a fast heartbeat but not racing and pounding, in the end I had to tell my husband that I had to go to bed and that I thought I was probably going to need a doctor. Craig raced round trying to sort everything out and I went to bed, everything seemed to calm down so I shouted to Craig that I thought I might be ok and not to bother calling a doctor. Craig came and laid on the bed with me and we watched television for about quarter of an hour then things suddenly got a lot worse with the way I was feeling, Craig called a doctor immediately who sent out an ambulance on hearing the symptoms. Two ambulance crews arrived and they proceeded with lots of questions and tests they then gave me morphine and things became a little hazy after that. I do remember the ambulance man asking if anything had upset me that day and I told him a bit about the telephone call from Enterprise Inns he stated that he was writing that into his report and would I give my permission to which I agreed. The rest of the night passed in a haze of pain and drugs and total fear. Following the angiogram we were informed that I had suffered a small heart attack induced by stress.

  5.(c)  It is my opinion that this phone call was intended to frighten me into signing the contract without legal representation, for what reasons I am unsure and therefore cannot understand. I consider this to be severe harassment as Enterprise Inns had been informed that I would not sign the contract until my solicitor had seen the T&Cs. My husband informed Mr Tuppen of the actions and consequences of one of his employees. Mr X was moved from his post of covering the Cornwall area on the 5 December 2007. Mr L sent us a letter dated 6 December 2007 informing us of Mr X's new appointment and asking us to wish him luck in the future, I consider this at the very least to be insensitive considering what I had just endured at the hands of this man.

  6.  Upon feeling a little stronger I again contacted Enterprise Inns to try and sort out the whole mess. This again resulted in questions not being answered and threats of court for forfeiture of lease. I informed Mr L that if that was the only way forward then so be it but don't threaten it to get your own way. Mr L wrote to me on 10 December with an unrealistic payment schedule or forfeiture proceedings would commence. The court case was heard on 5 February 2008 and a consent order made, which to date has been adhered to.

  7.  On 10 January 2008 I e-mailed Mr Tuppen, for which he sent a read receipt, asking for his help as he had been quoted in both national and trade press about how Enterprise Inns were willing to help struggling licensees and we were obviously struggling. I included copies of all my accounts and asked Mr Tuppen, as he was an accountant, for his expertise in ascertaining how the rent was maintainable and sustainable.

  8.  On 31 January 2008 our scheduled beer order had not arrived within its scheduled time window, I was somewhat mystified as to the reasons for this as payment had been made in cash at the bank on Tuesday 29 January 2008 as per the agreement. I rang supplyline to enquire what had happened to my beer order and was there any problems with delivery. I was informed that credit control had put a stop on the order I asked the telesales girl why this had happened as I had made the payments as per the agreement, she informed me that I would have to speak to credit control. Upon finally speaking to credit control they informed me that they had placed a stop as they had not received payment, I assured them that payment had been made and gave the relevant information and approximate time of payment. She then informed me that perhaps the bank were at fault as Enterprise Inns had definitely not received the monies due. By this time it was too late to speak to the bank as they had already closed, it was no use speaking to Enterprise any further as by this time nothing could be done to achieve delivery, another night of no beer in Mavericks yet again through no fault of my own. It is soul destroying to have to endure these conditions. The following morning I contacted the bank to confirm if indeed what Enterprise were informing me could be true. The bank informed me that they were no way at fault and that the monies cleared into Enterprise Inns bank account at 14.39 on Tuesday 29 January 2008. This fell within the perameters of the agreement and it is my opinion that Enterprise Inns were fully aware of these facts and their failure to deliver the beer and then try and shift the blame was purely harassment which certainly caused further distress.

  9.  On 14 February Miss G e-mailed me with a response from Mr L to the e-mail that had been sent to Mr Tuppen on the 10 January. This re-iterated previous points which were historical and not related to my request for help. Mr L stated that any rent review would be contested vigorously, I cannot understand the reason for this statement as Enterprise Inns had made it quite clear that until the consent order had been fulfilled they would not discuss the rent review. How can they contest vigorously something that has not even been proposed. It is my view that this was further harassment with a view to ensuring my earliest departure from Mavericks. This view was confirmed with the meeting with the new Regional Manager Mr M the following day. The rent review, as per their own codes of practice, should have been completed by 28 December 2007, this was before any court action had been instigated.

  10.  A meeting had been arranged for Friday 15 February 2008 with Mr M. Mr M had been informed by email that I would accept a meeting with him but that it had to be for a valid reason and that I certainly did not want a meeting that would cause any further distress or was likely not to achieve anything and so causing more distress. I did not wish for a futile meeting that would only ensure in upsetting me. My opinion of this meeting is that it was always intended to have the effect of threatening and harassing me. It could certainly not be considered as a productive meeting that proved to be mutually beneficial to both parties, I can only consider it as yet another threat, more bullying and harassment.

  11.  Enterprise Inns have made it perfectly clear that they view me as an un-compliant tenant because of the approach that I have adopted, that is involving the whole organisation. I had no choice in this matter, I was asking for help, we have never drawn a wage since we have been here. We are in receipt of full tax credits, half of which go to Enterprise Inns, why should the government and ultimately the tax payer pay for the greed of this company. We have improved turnover year on year up until the current perfect storm that the entire trade is facing. We have worked in excess of 100 hours a week to achieve this, year on year the prices that we have to pay to Enterprise Inns have risen considerably, both on the rent and the trade accounts. The greed of this company is unbelievable, that is there only goal, they neither care for their pubs or their licensees.

  12.  It is my belief that Enterprise Inns have not only completely ignored the recommendations in the 2004 Select Committee Report, but they have breached their own contract and they have not followed their own codes of practice, they have completely abused their position of power and strength. My case with Enterprise Inns has involved the whole organisation including Mr Graham Edward Tuppen and Mr Simon Townsend. Everything I have said can be proven either in writing or with witness statements and if required I would be more than happy to speak in evidence as I would for any evidence to be published.

  Since writing this evidence it has come to light that there may be anomalies with reference to the initial electrical safety certificate issued by Unique, unfortunately I have run out of room on the evidence allowed to be submitted.

  I confirm that there is no requirement that the content of this, my submission, should be confidential and it's content either in part of full may be printed in any subsequent report made by the Committee and that, if required, I am prepared to attend the Committee Hearings to give oral evidence in support of my comments and observations.

  I declare that this is my witness statement and that the information that I have given is true to the best of my knowledge and belief.

29 September 2008

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