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.

28 April 2010

Bigotry shmigotry

Gordon Brown's faux-pas today has nothing on this chap...

... but if Brown is looking for a consolation, Bush still won this election.