Matt Wardman writes:
[Update 12/5/2009: I have spoken to USDAW and can clarify the following two points:
1 – The Out of Court Offer that has been made is a comprehensive offer of settlement for all matters including unpaid wages and all other matters in dispute.
2 – The Employment Tribunal hearing is formally “suspended” not “cancelled”. This preserves the option of continuing the case should the settlement offer not prove acceptable to all staff involved.
USDAW are now starting a process of consultation with all 32 people in the Employment Tribunal action; the hearing this week only included a small number of test cases.]
Breaking news is that the Employment Tribunal relating to staff of the former SPCK Bookshop Chain has been cancelled, as the Interim Manager has offered an Out of Court settlement, which is likely to be accepted.
I am told that the settlement is likely to be acceptable to USDAW, who have fought a year-long Industrial Tribunal claim against the multi-headed hydra of several organisations created by J Mark Brewer and his brother Philip on behalf of bullied, victimised, sacked, and unpaid staff.
This is a direct result of the imposition of an Interim Manager by the Charity Commission, which in turn is a direct result of complaints submitted by campaigning bloggers and others committed to scrutinising the exploitation and mismanagement of the chain by the Brewer Brothers, detailing information that had been discovered over a period of months by a wide network. These complaints happened as far back as last August (2008).
It is also a direct result of a campaign of accurate reporting, initially by Dave Walker, but then by dozens of blogs (including my Wardman Wire site) which have discovered information, documented abuses, exposed lies (and probable perjury), and kept on going regardless.
I am hopeful that the fact that the charity is now controlled by the Charity Commission rather than the modern version of Shyster, Flywheel, and Shyster means that payments will be made of unpaid wages going back the best part of two years. Based on information I have picked up over the last months, there are quite substantial sums involved, well into six figures.[Update for clarity: I mean total sums, and I quote claims for “unpaid wages going back over 2 years” to illustrate that significant numbers are involved. ]
Special acknowledgements are due to the legal team at USDAW for dealing with a monstrously complicated case, and the staff who kept on fighting. It is also a victory for blog campaigners and fellow travellers who knitted it all together, especially Dave mentioned above and my colleague at SPCK/SSG News and Information, Phil Groom, and Unity at Ministry of Truth.
Several important aspects of the SPCK case – compensation to one significant group of staff for lost wages, and possibly bullying and victimisation – will have been resolved if this goes through, so we can have a big party. And some ex-staff can take a well-deserved holiday when the money comes through.
Onwards and Upwards
All this, that still leaves:
- Staff that are not in the tribunal.
- Staff wages, pensions, national insurance contributions are lost in the Texan fog somewhere.
- And of course all the other trusts and entities, American setups, shop companies, missing money.
- And then someone will have to continue rebuilding as many viable independent bookshops as possible to pick up the threads.
- The whole matter of bringing J Mark and Phil Brewer to legal account for their actions, if possible.
The next big immediate issue is bookshops still controlled by the Messrs Brewer, such as Durham and Chichester. The instruction to leave Durham is for 2010, and the loss of any contribution to the cathedral from the shop for 2007-8 (which vanished into the fake bankruptcy proceedings) or 2009-10 (which may or may not appear) may cost the cathedral 50k-100k ukp. That’s my estimate based on rough figures I have picked up along the way for past contributions. And there is still the small question of where the $542k transferred from SSG to Brewer organisations and the $165k taken out of the Durham Cathedral Bookshop ended up.
Considerable monies ($35k+) have also gone missing from the Chichester Shop via suspcious routes in the 12 month period revealed by the sworn bankruptcy documents.
I hope that the suppliers (who are owed most of the $1.6m debts declared accurately in the fake bankruptcy, when J Mark Brewer forgot to mention the 1.5m ukp of freehold assets in the business and was instructed to take remedial education in Legal Ethics) will now be able to take action. Maybe – even better – the Charity Commission will begin to look into these questions next.
Score an eventual two out of two for Lilliput on the Employment Tribunal issues. Now we need to keep going until we reach 10 on all the rest.
I’m off to write another Press Release.
“…payments will be made of unpaid wages going back the best part of two years…”
Sorry to throw cold water on this but who by and, more importantly, what with?
As I always try to do I said “I am hopeful that…”, however the answer would be:
a) Payments would be made from assets of the SSG Charity, which include:
i) Unless we missed their sale, the freeholds of the bookshops at (I think) Bradford, Canterbury and York – Exeter having been sold last September.
ii) Other liquid assets which we don’t have visibility of, including the 507k which was the sale price of Exeter last September. That 507k may have been vanished to Brewer-land or not.
iii) Claims which can be made against whichever organisation the Brewers transferred sums of money to at various stages, depending on whether appropriate governance and accounting can be shown for those transactions, and that services paid for can be demonstrated to have been real services not money laundering exercises.
e.g., SSGCT paid Mark Brewer $200k for “Legal Services” in Aug 2007 to June 2008 and another $342k to the “Orthodox Christian Mission Fund in the same period.
That is all in the Bankruptcy Docs, and I did a detailed analysis here.
On these monies, it may or may not be practical and cost-effective to chase them back from the USA. That is one for the Interim Manager.
iv) And of course there is stock and all the rest of assets in bookshops still run by SSG.
There may be other trails to follow – for example the transfer of assets to the Durham and Chichester shop companies when these were created.
This is why I have basically said that it is still a hellish mess, but at least with the CC Interim Manager in place, somebody trustworthy and acting within the law has control of some of it and can begin to untangle things.
b) The crucial point though is that solicitors appointed by the Charity Commission are not going to make offers in a Court (Tribunal) that they cannot meet.
The Employment Tribunal has now been a legal action with good guys on both sides, with them both working according to English Law to represent different interests in a horrible situation.
I hope that clarifies what I have said and provides some measure of reassurance, but I must be clear that I don’t have inside info on the tribunal beyond what I have said here – that an offer has been made and is likely to be accepted; that is from a participant.
People are going to be hurt in this – for example if suppliers start taking legal action (as they should) that will potentially impact on the remaining bookshops, but the CC taking control is at least the point at which we can start thinking about “coming out of the wood” rather than “going further in”.
Thanks for that Matt. Keep up the great work! (You too Phil!)
Now I’m seriously annoyed with WordPress and their naff server connection tonight. It’s just taken me three hours to cross post this, now at last successfully saved as a draft… and just as I’m about to hit publish, there it was already: you beat me to it, Matt.
Maybe it’s time I took another holiday.
Sorry – was about to tell you.
Nothing to apologise for Matt: glad you managed to get in. Just annoyed at the naff server connection constantly dropping out tonight. [mutter mutter… fade to frustrated silence]
This is all very positive news, despite the tortuous path still to be travelled to get the right money to the right people. Meanwhile, so much has been lost, so many people hurt and the work of so many publishers has been jeopardised.
At the moment there is a persistent rumour flying around that CPR, the repping force that SPCK runs representing themselves and a number of other publishers to the trade, is in danger of being axed. It is only a rumour, but if anyone could confirm or deny it that would be good.
ALSO, the Co-operative Bank has recently announced that the Co-op SPCK credit card is to be stopped. Not enough call for it, which is a shame. But without the shops SPCK might not have the profile to garner the numbers taking up the credit card to make it worthwhile for the Co-op.
The knock-on effects of the Brewers reign of terror will continue for a long time to come.
That sounds like something that we have discussed from time to time – whether there is a palce for some sort of federation of “post-SPCK” (by another name) of bookshops with an “open” ethos.
Something like that could provide a platform for common schemes etc.
But that’s just me floating a thought.
The use of the word “Comprehensive” in the description of the settlement is not a monetary meaning. Afterall, staff will be getting a lot less than was claimed for. The Interim Managers may now have to find a way of releasing assets to pay for the proposed settlement and in the present financial market there’s no guarantee on when this will be achieved or whether the disposed assets will yield the expected funds. I’ll try not to open the champagne just yet. So the staff suffering financial and emotional hardships will have to depressingly carry on to the next obstacle. I’m sure the end is in sight but there’s still some people whose resources on all levels will not last the distance. The Interim Managers are there to act in the best interests of the charity and handle their assets accordingly. I know that this is a simplistic way of looking at things but the charities greatest asset was their staff. So firstly they get kicked in the teeth by the fabulous brewer boys then when the chuckle brothers are so amazingly incompetent at being incompetent they get another shafting from the charities commission.
Like I said, very simplistic but people have given their lives to this charity and they are now going to be screwed over by CC interim managers because they are looking out for the best interests of the charity. The staff was that charity. So what exactly happens to all the other assets of SSG et al. Where will that money go?
>The use of the word “Comprehensive” in the description of the settlement is not a monetary meaning. Afterall, staff will be getting a lot less than was claimed for.
Correct – by “comprehensive” I am referring to a settlement offer for all grievances brought under the Employment Tribunal Action – emphasizing that I do not exact amounts, and it would be inappropriate to ask.
>The Interim Managers may now have to find a way of releasing assets to pay for the proposed settlement and in the present financial market there’s no guarantee on when this will be achieved or whether the disposed assets will yield the expected funds.
I commented on that. I just don’t see official solicitors making an offer they can’t fund – and the staff in the tribunal are the first group to really make progress.
>I’ll try not to open the champagne just yet. So the staff suffering financial and emotional hardships will have to depressingly carry on to the next obstacle. I’m sure the end is in sight but there’s still some people whose resources on all levels will not last the distance. The Interim Managers are there to act in the best interests of the charity and handle their assets accordingly.
I agree with all of that.
>Like I said, very simplistic but people have given their lives to this charity and they are now going to be screwed over by CC interim managers because they are looking out for the best interests of the charity. The staff was that charity. So what exactly happens to all the other assets of SSG et al. Where will that money go?
>So what exactly happens to all the other assets of SSG et al. Where will that money go?
There are plenty of other places – for example hundreds of businesses supplying SSG who have not been paid to the tune of $1.6m that we know about (from bankruptcy documents).
That includes – for example – what I take to be a whole year’s income from the sale of Palm Sunday crosses ($30k I think, for that one) that should have gone to development in Africa, and was not paid to the charity.
There are also, of course, all the current employees in SSG run shops – however many that is. And – potentially – staff NOT in the Tribunal, but there may be legal time limits etc.
In addition everyone from the VAT man, the CofE Pensions Board, the HMRC, Carlisle Cathedral (presumably unpaid rent?), the people who make prayer cards, greetings cards, most Christian publishers in the country and a lot of one or two person businesses. Literally hundreds of organisations have not been paid.
Basically, name it and they are likely to be on there.
There may also be (OK: is) money which has been accepted/demanded from other places and not been used as promised.
It’s a hellish tangle. To be honest – and as a personal opinion which anyone making any decisions about the offer should rate well below the informed advice they get from USDAW, imho if staff get some money now it may end up being compared with other creditors who get nothing later.
All we can really do is keep on pulling bits out of the Knot of Gordion.
It would be nice to think that there could be some sort of link between any independent bookshops that have arisen from from the ashes of the SPCK shops. Probably wishful thinking.
No matter how long this process takes, I hope that those involved in the Tribunal process have taken heart from the many who have, and are, supporting their cause.
Its great that some some staff , who were members of Usdaw , will/ may get some recompence, however, there are are many who wern’t….or, who were forced to leave….
Our prayers and thoughts , I’m sure, are with ALL.
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