Collapse of firm behind Café Britannia leaves more questions than answers
PUBLISHED: 09:07 16 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:15 18 November 2019
The doors to some of Norwich's best-loved cafés have firmly shut, but their closure leaves many questions still open. Tom Bristow reports.
'Mollie' is sitting in a car park behind the Fiveways pub in Earlham.
Café Britannia's once proud blue, cream and red food truck marks a sad end for a business which for the last five years has been praised for helping prisoners and ex-offenders get back into work.
At the start of the month Britannia Enterprises Community Interest Company (CIC), which was behind five cafés at Norwich Prison, the Guildhall, Waterloo Park, Gibraltar Gardens and Norwich Crown Court appointed a liquidator and published a state of affairs document, showing how much money it owes.
The figures are eye-watering and open up many questions about how the company collapsed.
It has assets of just over £9,000 but owes almost £630,000.
How did it rack up such large debts when it had so few assets to borrow against?
At what point did its directors realise it was never going to be able to pay back the hundreds of thousands of pounds owed to other businesses?
We have sent a series of questions to the CIC's director, Davina Tanner and the company's liquidator, Stewart Bennett, but they refused to answer.
The CIC, which is run as part-profit, part-charity was facing problems before it went into liquidation.
Police are investigating an alleged fraud at the company dating back to 2018 and have interviewed one man in his 60s.
But in its last accounts, for 2017, Britannia Enterprises owed £91,000 to trade creditors; less than two years later that figure has tripled to £270,000.
Meanwhile the assets of the company have collapsed since 2017 from £357,000 to £9,000.
In its last accounts its assets included £244,000 in investments and £83,000 worth of vehicles.
One of Ms Tanner's companies, called Moody Deals Ltd, runs the Fiveways pub, which would explain why the Café Britannia food truck is there, but what has happened to the rest of the company's assets? That question was not answered.
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Ms Tanner said in August that it was her intention to pay suppliers back, but the liquidator's documents show this will not be possible.
We also asked Ms Tanner why such large amounts were owed to individual businesses.
Two of its biggest creditors, owed almost £42,000 and £45,000, are finance leasing firms who fund vehicles and equipment, called Academy Leasing Limited and Credo Asset Finance.
More than £90,000 is also owed to one of Ms Tanner's companies Brand Strategy Partners Ltd.
It lists its function as "management consultancy activities". We asked why this company was hired by the CIC and what work it did? Again no response was given.
Another £90,000 is owed to HMP Norwich, where Café Britannia was based. We asked how long has this amount had accrued over and what exactly it was for? No answer.
Employees are also owed £65,000, directors are owed £45,000, while the taxman has lost out by £40,000.
Another £16,000 is owed to Norwich City Council.
The biggest losers are other businesses which were hired by the CIC.
But speaking in August, when the closure of the café was announced, Ms Tanner said she was the "biggest loser" from the collapse.
"I stupidly invested my own money into this and I've had to make my peace with the fact I'm not getting it back," she said at the time.
She also said she had not taken a salary from the company for two years.
Ms Tanner, who has an OBE, has a long track record in business, including as manager at Chapelfield shopping centre, but this is the third business she has been a director of which has gone into insolvency.
The most recent one was last year, called D T Properties Great Yarmouth Ltd.
While The Park Britannia at Waterloo Park has now been taken over by a sole trader, the other outlets have shut with the loss of around 50 jobs.
However the Café Britannia name could still live on.
Several other companies with its name are registered on Companies House as still being active including, Britannia Holdings Norwich and Café Britannia Limited.