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Gas pipe mix-up cost us £200,000 in lost revenue, says Norfolk food firm boss

PUBLISHED: 11:57 28 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:50 28 November 2018

Patrick Gould, owner of Shire Foods East Anglia in Downham Market, says a long-running saga over a gas line has cost his firm £200,000 in lost revenue. Picture: Irene East.

Patrick Gould, owner of Shire Foods East Anglia in Downham Market, says a long-running saga over a gas line has cost his firm £200,000 in lost revenue. Picture: Irene East.

Irene East

A Norfolk businessman claims a mix-up over a gas pipe has cost an estimated £200,000 in lost revenue after it prevented the opening of his new biscuit bakery.

Shire Foods East Anglia has doubled its warehouse capacity by purchasing new premises in Downham Market. Pictured is director Patrick Gould (right) with David Norris of Barclays Bank. Picture: Irene East, Barclays.Shire Foods East Anglia has doubled its warehouse capacity by purchasing new premises in Downham Market. Pictured is director Patrick Gould (right) with David Norris of Barclays Bank. Picture: Irene East, Barclays.

Shire Foods East Anglia is an expanding food wholesaler and distributor in Downham Market, which sought to extend its product line by buying three 
gas ovens and other biscuit-baking equipment – along with contracts worth £250,000 – from a firm in Yorkshire earlier this year.

But when owner Patrick Gould asked his gas supplier Opus Energy to install a meter and regulator on the gas supply into his premises at Trafalgar Industrial Estate so he could start cooking, rival Npower intervened because their records showed the pipe was already metered and in use with them.

It has since been discovered that the meter point reference number (MPRN) which identifies the gas line had been incorrectly registered on the national database, with Mr Gould’s MPRN mistakenly applied to a different pipe used by NPower.

But Mr Gould said the frustrating saga which has been running since June is still unresolved, despite letters to his MP Elizabeth Truss and even the energy minister. He blames Npower for using his MPRN in error, and criticised its “total dogmatic intransigence” in the matter.

Npower said it was not wholly responsible for the delays, and the original issue stemmed from the gas line being mis-registered on the national database before the energy company took over the supply – but it is working with all parties to resolve the problem.

Mr Gould said: “All I want to do is bake biscuits, but we are being stopped dead. You don’t expect a gas meter to cause so much complication.

“Every time Opus Energy said they wanted to put a meter on this MPRN, NPower said we couldn’t do it because they are already supplying a meter on that pipe. But that cannot be true. We know our MPRN is the right one, but we cannot make any headway on this.

“It is the most stupid situation and it has cost us dearly. It is costing me £400 a week in rent and rates on an empty building. I have paid many, many thousands for the equipment and at the same time, when we bought the bakery from Leeds, I purchased £250,000 of business for the biscuits, as they already had a customer base. I reckon we will be lucky to keep 20% of that business.”

The latest message sent to Mr Gould from his gas supplier Opus Energy on November 28 says Npower had been unable to change the incorrect MPRN on his gas line, but had raised the issue with Xoserve, which operates the national gas network database, in a bid to find a solution.

But it adds: “Whilst Npower have your MPRN incorrectly allocated to their customer’s supply, we will not be able to install a gas meter within your premises.”

An Npower spokesman said: “We were sorry to hear of the difficulties Mr Gould has encountered with his energy account. Unfortunately, there are two gas supplies connected that were incorrectly registered on the national database before we took over the supply. We are currently working with Opus Energy and Xoserve to get this resolved.”

WAREHOUSE COULD CREATE JOBS AND GROWTH

Shire Foods East Anglia has also doubled its warehouse capacity by purchasing new premises in Downham Market – creating 12 new job opportunities as it seeks to meet ambitious growth targets.

Having outgrown its existing premises on Sovereign Way, the firm snapped up a larger warehouse on an adjacent industrial estate in St John’s Way.

Owner Patrick Gould said the expanded capacity has allowed the firm to bring its packing and order picking functions back together under one roof to improve efficiencies.

It will also allow the company to take on new contracts and further expand its diverse range of food and drink products, which already includes nuts, dried fruits, beans, cereals, herbs and spices, sweets and traditional loaf cakes.

The company has a turnover of £2.8m, but Mr Gould said the ambition is for this to grow to £4m in the next 12 months, with the extra warehousing space opening up opportunities to send palletised orders to new parts of the country.

The company employs 25 staff, but the creation of the new warehouse is expected to create a further 12 vacancies for bakers, packers and administrative staff.

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