29 April 2010

Turned to liquid

You may recall that at the back end of last year, I was elated to be offered a job as the breakfast presenter of Pennine FM in Huddersfield.

Today I attended a meeting at the offices of liquidators instructed by the radio station's holding company to detail the assets of the station, which closed down over the Easter weekend.

I had lasted five weeks at the station. After just 24 shows, I was called into the finance director's office and had my contract terminated as, simply, they couldn't afford to pay me. They emailed me later the same week to confirm this. And to this day, they still haven't paid me. Under the terms of my contract, I'm owed one four-figure sum in wages and a larger four-figure sum in severance pay. Since then I have also incurred legal fees and threw in a final £30 in train fares to get to today's meeting, hoping there would be some crumbs to throw back out.

There were none. And, bleakly, it looks like there will always be none. I've been left helpless, jobless and potless.

They dismissed me on February 4th. What else happened on February 4th? Suffice to say, I've enjoyed better days.

I issued a County Court order for my wages, which was ignored. I sent in the Sheriff (different to bailiffs, as the Sheriff is private and therefore has more incentive to come away with money or goods) and that came to nothing. A week after the Sheriff went in and compiled an inventory of all the gear, the radio station closed down thanks partly to transmitter issues and partly to the owners of the property where it was based calling in months of unpaid rent. Landlords or mortgage providers get priority, under the law, when it comes to seizing goods of value to recoup their debt, leaving my little bit of legal action in tatters.

So, once that was over, I waited for my letter from the liquidators and it duly arrived, inviting me to today's meeting. I had no idea - and dared not guess - how many other creditors there were and how much they were owed. Upon arrival at the liquidators' offices this morning, I was handed an agenda and a breakdown of the company figures, and at the back was an alphabetical list of every creditor, including me, and the amounts owed to each.

(They had cut my debt to a tenth of its real worth, but it turns out that was a typing error).

There were 86 creditors. That's 86 people or companies or institutions that are today still owed money by this radio station. The smallest individual sum owed was £2.16; the largest was more than £13,000. And all bar one of the debts larger than mine were to companies. Only one was, like me, owed to an individual in terms of salary for agreed services.

Anyway, the upshot of it all was that despite the best efforts of the few creditors who felt it was a wild goose chase still worth pursuing, the cupboard was and is bare. The problem, nay scandal, is that it seemed to be bare from the beginning. It was bare when they placed the ad to which I responded, it was bare when I started work, it was bare when I was fired and it was bare when - get this - they then placed more ads seeking to hire further sales people.

One of the other creditors who turned up, a fellow presenter who stayed the course until the station closed down, told the liquidators that he was essentially lied to, was down to his last three pounds, had no food in the house and was desperate for at least some of the substantial sum he was owed. He was sad in his demeanour; I was just livid. I felt I had a right to be scathing and vindictive and asked the liquidators to make an individual liable personally for the sums owed, which under the regulations they can do. I submitted, via my legal advice, that the trading had been wrongful and possibly fraudulent as they knew that the company was insolvent when they took over and continued to trade while their bills and debts continued to far outweigh their income and assets.

There is no doubt that they had trouble in persuading clients to pay them due advertising and sponsorship revenue. January was tough because the snow meant the sales staff couldn't get in. But they continued to hire and solicit for staff throughout this period of zero, or negligible, turnover.

When I was dismissed, an email was sent out to the remaining members of staff which informed them I had got a job at another radio station. This was a lie, designed to not induce panic among the remaining few members of the on-air team who, like me, had not seen a bean all year but in some cases unlike me, did not have the alleged security of a signed contract. A friend kindly forwarded me the email and I handed a copy to the liquidator, along with copies of my contract and each of my invoices that were appropriately submitted after each week of work had been completed. The contents of that email suggested cowardice and blind stupidity, as well as incompetence.

Sadly, ethics and morals don't override the law and the bank's debenture (I had to ask what a debenture was, and didn't like the answer very much) and the landlord's priority claim meant that even if the cupboard wasn't quite bare, the chances of receiving even a small percentage of what I am owed is now almost wholly nil. As a creditor who was not on the staff payroll, I am a long way down the list. I and no other creditor can do much about it. It will take a lot for the liquidators to decide anyone is personally liable, and there is a huge burden of proof to uncover before any allegations of fraudulent trading can be levelled at any individual.

It's a grim and frustrating business, all told. It's hard enough to find a job in radio at the moment, let alone find one that gets you all excited and then turns out to be an utter sham. I feel really let down.


Poppy Dog said...

It's so wrong.

I had that problem with a prod company that went under owing me (and other voices) money - some people many hundreds. The assets had been transferred to someone else before they pulled the plug.

They (as Pennine) knew they were trading insolvently.

I feel your pain.

JM said...

I admire your restraint in not naming the lying cheating bastards involved. I think the least they deserve is something for google searches to bite on when any future business associates perform their due diligence.

Is it OK to link to this post on things like the mediauk discussion thread which was full of fulsome praise for the Pennine managers and expressing their heartfelt regret that such wonderful people had run into hard times? There is some important record straightening to be done.

Clair said...

Bunch of cocks, the lot of 'em. It's lllegal to sign a cheque when you know you don't have enough money in the bank to cover it, but it seems that it's still perfectly legal to conduct business like that.

Chin up. Onwards and upwards xx

Charles Nove said...

An all too familiar tale, I'm afraid. I'm sorry to hear it's hit you so firmly. The law on wrongful trading looks great, but somehow never actually seems to bite anyone.

Anonymous said...

I was invited across to Pennine FM a couple of months ago by Jono Gold to talk about doing some swing work, had a nice chat and a quick glance round the studios.
The only thing that wasn't discussed was money so I put a call through to Jono when I got home. He didn't answer so I left a message to call me back which he didn't.
Left another 3 messages over the next few days along with a couple of emails to no avail. Rang from my home phone which he then rang back on but hung up as soon as he knew it was me!
Not a very good way to do business as far as I'm concerned and I guess he must have been aware of the situation with the station's finances and was reluctant to discuss them! Big shame really, nice little set up there but it would appear that many promises were made that were broken. I feel sorry for the guys that are out of pocket cos they seemed like a nice bunch.

Jon Peake said...

Sorry to hear that Matt. Such a let down.

But just think of the bad karma coming the debtor's way.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that just because it's a company that's down on the list of creditors, that they aren't affected.

I was owed a substantial amount of money from Pennine, and although a company, relied on that money to pay rent and HMRC tax.

I was fobbed off for months - they knew this problem months ago and burried their heads in the sand.

This must be stopped.

Simon said...

That's harsh and you have my sympathies. I know times are tough generally but for a business that basically exists to communicate to not do so to this level is just wrong.

Stevie said...

They owed me a substantial amount of money too. I had instructed debt collectors a month before they went under and thankfully I didn't waste further money trying to recover the debt. What made things worse was I counted one of the directors as a friend.. Not any more. As for the FD well, ignorant isn't the word. I'll be letting others know of my experience - Matthew - hats off for speaking up!

Kolley Kibber said...

Bloody hell, Matt - I just read this after a few days away and am horrified. To use an Ameriicanism, that absolutely sucks. What a shower of bastards, abusing your trust and that of many others. I hope things turn around for you (and that you eventually get your money.).

Trix said...

Hi Matthew

I worked there too. I must have left before you arrived. I am also out of pocket by nearly 3k when Adam Smith owned it. Never worked for that Karl Marx bloke.
Don't suppose I have any chance of cash either then?

Simon Field said...

No chance Trix - the way it works, nobody like us gets a penny. Once the bank has got what it can, anything left goes to the landlord. Then, if by some miracle there is anything left after that, (but there isn't), then the salaried staff get the next look in.

Good work Matthew, and thanks for your comments at the meeting of creditors - those things needed to be said. People in radio really need to see this blog - trading like this has become the norm in this industry, and has hurt far too many people. Surely some kind of mandatory insurance to cover their obligations to creditors wouldn't go amiss...

Anonymous said...

I did a few shows at Pennine, before Christmas, it was about £300worth of shows, which i got paid after 4 weeks, I was told of the situation, and talking with other staff and presenters, they were all told that the station was make or break after the state Adam Smith had left it in. I know many people lost money, but as someone who had worked there, I read various comments from people who never set foot in the building, and there's 2 sides to every story !

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry to hear about all this, Matthew. I'm very sad to say that i stopped working for commercial radio a while back: it produces nothing I want to listen to and is run my uncreative, mean, unprincipled little shits well. Oc course, to an extent it always was, but at least there was mix!