Neville Thurlbeck’s PR firm liquidated; Debenhams on the brink; a third of printers suffer late payment; retail CVAs; and the eyewatering debts left by book seller

Neville Thurlbeck’s PR firm liquidated; Debenhams on the brink; a third of printers suffer late payment; retail CVAs; and the eyewatering debts left by a book seller

As more firms throw in the towel and accept they are no longer solvent due to the shut down of the economy during the Covid-19 crisis the numbers exchanging furlough payments for the dole is increasing. The effect on business is beginning to take its toll with department stores, manufacturers, consultancies and hotels going to the wall. Insolvency practitioners however are enjoying a boom in business.

Ex-News of the World man’s firm ends

Neville Thurlbeck’s public relations company Clear Vista Media has been liquidated. The former News of the World journalist who was sacked over the phone hacking scandal but eventually won a case of unfair dismissal. In 2014 he received a six month prison sentence for his part in the phone hacking case along with Andy Coulson and others.

The winner of a number of journalist awards bounced back with a job for the lobby group for the fur industry before setting up the PR outfit in Weybridge in 2015 after previously running TalentGB, which specialised in hosting the showreels of artistes of every genre.

He applied for a members winding up petition to cease trading this month but also agrees to pay off all existing debts exceed that £100,000 within 12 months.

PR Week surveyed the industry earlier in the pandemic to take the temperature of the sector. They reported on late payment: “COVID-19 has accelerated this trend even further, with agency respondents reporting that 38.3% of clients had imposed extended payment terms on them since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.”

It also reported on extensive lay-offs of staff and the clients of a majority of PR companies cutting spending with damage limitation work one of the main growths as businesses struggled to survive. Ian Carrotte of ICSM Credit said it was no surprise that marketing and PR budgets were affected by the recession. “I can only see things getting worse as the furlough scheme comes to an end,” he said, “we will only get a clearer idea then of how bad things will be. The survey by PR Week is a concerning as if publicity firms are being asked or forced to accept extended credit terms it suggests their clients are struggling. My advice is to reject such terms if you have any doubts.”

Debenhams considers liquidation

Hilco Capital are working on plans for Debenhams if they decide to liquidate the 242-year-old retial chain.

Mark Kleinman of sky News reported at the weekend that the plans were only a contingency as the department store are hopeful of being able to trade up the busy pre-Christmas period to begin a recovery in their fortunes. He wrote: “Debenhams employs roughly 14,000 people, having announced this week that it was shedding a further 2500 members of its workforce. The chain, which trades from just over 120 stores across the UK, had already axed more than 4,000 jobs since the pandemic struck. The liquidation of its stock and other assets would inevitably spell grim news for most of Debenhams' remaining staff.”

It was to happen there would be a glut of empty stores, vast amounts of stock up for grabs at low prices and a long list of unpaid suppliers from printers to furniture makers said Ian Carrotte of ICSM Credit. “If a firm is considering the nuclear option then don’t give them credit,” he said, “as you are simply never going to get paid if they go under.”

Sky News reported: “The company and its hedge fund backers - which include Silver Point Capital and GoldenTree Asset Management - launched an auction through the investment bank Lazard in an attempt to secure new investors. A number of parties are said to have expressed an interest, although analysts believe it is unlikely that a buyer will emerge for Debenhams in its current form. The company wants to conclude the sale process by the end of next month.”

Gloom in the print industry

Richard Stuart-Turner of the trade publication Print Week has reported on the BPIF’s latest survey of the industry. He said the report called Printing Outlook indicated that 74% of printers saw their output decline in Q2.

He said: “The survey found that just 15% of printers increased their output levels in the second quarter of 2020, with 11% holding their output steady and the remaining 74% reporting that they were adversely affected by a decline in output. However, expectations for Q3 reveal that some improvements are likely, at least in comparison to Q2, but that there will be no return to pre-coronavirus normality. Output growth in Q3 is forecast to increase for 36% of companies, with 35% expecting to hold their output levels steady and 29% expecting them to fall.”

Ian Carrotte of ICSM Credit said the most worrying part of the survey was that felt the most important business concern was surviving with ‘late payment by customers’ a worry for 35%.

The Printing Outlook survey was carried out between 2-15 July 2020 and received responses from 152 companies employing 8,763 people with a combined turnover of £1.3bn.

Retail CVA is approved

Business Rescue have reported that the retailer and wholesaler Baird Group, who have brands including Suit Direct, Ben Sherman and Jeff Banks, in their portfolio, has received creditor approval to proceed with a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). Around 94 per cent of the company’s creditors voted to approve the CVA.

They said: “The CVA, originally proposed on July 23 2020, will see 18 stores, one warehouse and one office close, with 264 job losses. 29 further stores will undergo a reduction in and phased rebuild of their base rent. Redundancies will mainly impact the group’s Debenhams men’s tailoring concessions, however, Baird says it is not exiting Debenhams. Baird Group has been working with KPMG’s restructuring division to review its options in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its most recent available accounts, for the year ended February 2 2019, the company reported a loss for the year of £48,000. Its fixed assets were valued at £21 million, current assets at £6.3 million, with net assets of £16.9 million.”

Unpleasant secret 

In more insolvency news it has been revealed that Victoria’s Secret owed 200 creditors £466m prior to administration. Ian Carrotte of ICSM Credit described the losses as ‘eye-watering’ and urged suppliers to all retails to resist being seduced by famous names and simply keep a tight hold on credit control.

Meanwhile another insolvent firm has left creditors with a hefty bill. Fancesca Washtell of the Mail reported that collapsed Bertrams Books left publishers, museums and media groups £25million in unpaid invoices with just £600,000 available to hand back to them.

She said: "Bertram Books was one of just two major national wholesalers supplying books to UK stores when it collapsed in June. The firm owes money to around 2,500 trade creditors, according to company filings that lay bare the pressures facing the publishing industry. The private equity-owners of Norwich-based Bertrams, Aurelius, put the group up for sale in May, shortly after it was forced to temporarily close its warehouse due to the pandemic. 

"It went into administration in June, leading to most of its 460 employees losing their jobs, and is still in the hands of administrators Turpin Barker Armstrong. Some of Bertram's assets have been sold, including its online bookselling division Wordery, bought by Waterstones-owner Elliott Advisers, and its Norwich warehouse, which was bought by former arch-rival Gardners."

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