Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

Patisserie Valerie’s Cash Hole And Secret Overdrafts

Luke Johnson’s Patisserie Valerie isn’t having an easy time of it. They thought they were sitting on a cash pile of near £30 million and they weren’t, they really weren’t. They weren’t paying their bills – landlords were trying to take back shops – and HMRC was trying to wind the company up. Not only that there were overdrafts management didn’t know about meaning that rather than £30 big up they were – before those various creditors – £10 million down.

This is what is, technically, known as a disaster in the business field. For there’s always uncertainty, you never do know what tomorrow is going to bring. Perhaps consumer tastes will change, maybe some idiot bakes a wiggling rat into a cake or summat. But you should always know where you are which is the very thing they didn’t:

The board of Patisserie Valerie discovered the existence of two “secret” company bank overdrafts this week, according to boss Luke Johnson.

The entrepreneur told the Sunday Times that £9.7m had been spent in two overdrafts set up with HSBC and Barclays.

Mr Johnson said neither he, the board, nor the auditors had known that the firm had bank overdraft facilities.

That’s a fairly shocking failure of the management accounting system there. But then they have already arrested the finance director over this issue:

Paul May was in a state of shock. He told Johnson that Patisserie Valerie’s bank accounts had been frozen. As Johnson listened in disbelief, May ran through a series of increasingly alarming discoveries.

Alarming is one way to put it:

The first ominous sign came on September 14, when HMRC filed a winding-up petition over an unpaid £1.14m tax bill against Stonebeach, Patisserie Valerie’s main trading subsidiary. Johnson said the board had no idea about the petition until its accounts were frozen.

That had been outstanding for nearly a month before the board knew about it. Something very odd going on:

They discovered that instead of having £28.8m in the bank, Patisserie Valerie had almost £10m of debt. About £9.7m had been drawn down in two secret overdrafts with Barclays and HSBC.

Ouch. Now, it depends what has happened there. If the FD has walked off with it then that’s one thing. Criminal and all that but. But what if the company simply never has been making the money it has been reporting? That this is the accumulation of all those years of reporting profits when there were none? That’s rather another matter, isn’t it.

On Friday morning, a sign appeared at the window of a Patisserie Valerie cafe in Hammersmith, west London. The doors were shut and no staff were inside. Angry letters revealed that the landlord had taken back the store because Patisserie Valerie had stopped paying its rent.

A few miles away, shoppers on the Edgware Road were met with a similar sight. Bailiffs had seized control of Patisserie Valerie’s cafe on the bustling street.

And it’s not just the cash float gone either. Who in heck knows what unpaid creditors there are around?

An entire disaster therefore. Except there is the one little ray of sunshine in all of this. Catherine Bennett takes the opportunity to have a dig at Luke Johnson himself. Fair game you might think:

Inevitably, that widespread ignorance makes it hard to judge how much of Johnson’s wide-ranging, pre-existing advice, which has recently focused on Brexit, we can safely discard as, if not consistently hilarious, worthless. His chairmanship of Patisserie Valerie has, after all, repeatedly been cited, in the same way as Dyson’s profits and Tim Martin’s pubs, as the main reason to listen to him deprecate the EU, with his own achievements (pre-black hole), proving that “this is a great country in which to do business and prosper”.

That is, those who preside over business disasters have no business telling the rest of us how to run business or the economy. Harsh but fair, harsh but fair.

Which does of course mean we can and should ignore every single thing columnists at The Observer and or Guardian tell us about anything. For the combined group has been known to make larger losses than that just in the one single financial year, without the aid of suspected fraud or dodgy dealings. Hey, fair’s fair, if only those who can get to advise then that’s the entire left wing of the country locked out of commenting, isn’t it? Certainly does for Willy Hutton following the Industrial Society.

And wouldn’t their silencing be worth a cake shop or two?

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