Community group demands answers regarding the sale of Hastings pier.

The people of Hastings and St Leonards deserve answers to a long list of questions surrounding the  ‘cloudy and often opaque’ process by which the pier was sold out of administration, says the man behind Friends of Hastings Pier’s detailed business plan, drawn up in support of their bid to keep it  in community ownership.

Adam Wide -who was also behind the successful regeneration and commercial operation of the community-owned Bournemouth and Cromer Piers – wrote to Adam Stephens of the pier’s administrators Smith and Williamson on 10th July demanding answers to a list of questions regarding the administration process and its subsequent sale for an undisclosed price to private owner Mr. Sheikh Abid Gulzar.

Mr. Wide wrote the letter on behalf of the community group and previous Hastings Pier Charity shareholders as well as the ‘thousands of local people who put in hours, weeks, months and years of time and energy’ into making the £14 million pier a valuable and viable asset.

In it he questioned why administrators who claim the process was ‘transparent’ and conducted on a ‘completely level playing field’ failed to publish terms and conditions of sale, gave no explanation of the criteria they would use when assessing the bids or why no final deadline was given to bidders, with bidding being summarily brought to a halt, late in the evening of 15th June.  He also questioned the conditions of sale and whether they included a reduction in price to ensure the instigation of TUPE Transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations for existing staff, and whether, if TUPE was not followed through, it would constitute a breach of contract. See the full letter below:

Dear Adam,

Well it is now well over three weeks since you said to Jess and I that you “will call soon”.

My mails have been stonewalled and “batted in to touch.”  As you might imagine there are still many questions being asked by the FOHP (as well as to the FOHP) by many of the previous shareholders of the HPC, and the thousands of local people who have put hours, weeks, months and years of time and energy into making Hastings Pier the valuable and viable asset that you have just sold into private hands.

Your silence is deafening!

I write this letter not only as myself but also as an elected ‘spokesperson’ for the 500+ shareholders and supporters who turned up at the White Rock Theatre on April 23rd.   It also is an agglomeration of specific questions asked by;  Pete Fairless, Lucy Pappas, Anneberth Lux, Lynne Garrick, Jayne Rogers, Jess Steele, Sandra Witham, Paul Bradbury, Amanda Bryant, Rose Alexander, Stephanie Gaunt, James Chang, Angela Davis, Steve Amos, Martin Richter, Jim Breeds, Ken Dicker, Jeanette Taylor, Lesley Davis, Alan Devine, David Barry and Andy Charles (… and many others) – all of whom took the time to write to me to ask YOU for some answers.

I understand that you say you cannot comment on the other bids, but surely you ARE able to comment on your own process and our own bid?  Those are not confidential.

So far I have always been respectful to yourselves, Mr. Gulzar and the overall situation, but my patience is wearing thin – three weeks was a LONG time ago.  Please show me/us the same respect I have always shown you, this is a matter of personal integrity.

These are some of the questions we would like to be answered :-

THE PROCESS
Why was there no published process?
Why were there no published ‘Terms and Conditions’ for the sale?
Why was there no ‘Sale Brochure’ – rather than just a link to a drop-box?
Why no explanation of the criteria you would use when assessing the bids?
Why was there no final deadline given ?
Why was the bidding summarily brought to a halt late in the evening of Friday June 15th?
Why did you use what was effectively a commercial process for a civic/community asset?

Paul Bradbury : I think we should understand the criteria that were used to quantify the private versus community bids. There was no precedent for a CIC going through the process of administration. It would be useful to know what mechanism they used to value the strength of FOHP versus Mr. Gulzar.    S&W’s compliance partner(s) should be invited to confirm that there was no conflict regarding advice given to HPC prior to administration and that they are happy all staff dealing with the situation had adequate training regarding CICs.

How much governance was done in conjunction with Hastings Borough Council?

THE SALE
Who made the final decision?
What was the final sale price?
Did you go back to the HLF with the revised FOHP £55,000 bid?Why didn’t yourselves or GVA come back to us to ask for a “best and final offer”?
When will the shareholders be able to see the conditions of sale ?

Alan Devine :  “The bare minimum request must be for some transparency in terms of the rules associated with the bid process, the timeline for all activities and clear statements that all interested parties and all bidding parties received equal treatment. Beyond that there should be feedback on the merits of the FOHP offer relative to the accepted offer – linked directly to the stated rules and the criteria used for assessing the offers. I would expect any process involving the dispersal of public money to provide this”. 

OUR BID
We understood from various conversations (rather than any written or laid-out criteria) that you were looking for :-

A cash buyer

A buyer who could sustain at least two year’s losses (£1.2m?)

A Business Plan for profitability within 3 years

A buyer with access to enough money to cover new buildings and ‘long-term’ investment

Professional Commercial Content development over 3 – 5 years

Community involvement

The ‘Way Forward’ in keeping with the award-winning architecture of the pier as it stands.

A Transition plan so the pier “hit the ground running” on day 1 without any closure.

Please could you indicate if these WERE indeed your criteria?

Then let us know where the FOHP bid fell short?

CONDITIONS OF SALE
What were the conditions of sale?
Did they include a reduction in the sale price to instigate TUPE for existing staff?
If TUPE is not followed through, would that constitute a breach of contract?
Is there a repairing and maintenance requirement in the contract of sale?
Was it a condition of sale that ALL current bookings are to be honoured … if they are not -does that invalidate the contract?

FINANCIAL DUE DILIGENCE
Without the need to be specific about this particular instance …….
What investigation would you have made into any bidders’ financial background?
Would a number of bankruptcies count against a bidder?
Would a history of non-compliance with Government regulations be taken into account?
Would you do a basic credit check with a site such as “Companycheck.com”?
Would a credit score for a business of less than 10  out of 100 be a cause for concern?
Would you look at an ability to be profitable, and how would you assess this?

A MATTER OF PUBLIC RECORD
Hugh Sullivan a journalist on the ‘Hastings Independent’ wrote the following article based on public records easily available, did you do the same research?

Read it here

Does any of it give you cause for concern?

YOUR REPORT “ADDITIONAL INFORMATION” OF 20th JUNE
Angela Davis :- “In the original funding bid, much emphasis was placed on the heritage value of the pier which was massively important to the community who campaigned tirelessly to save the pier, please can S & W outline specifically the heritage understanding and value add of the bid placed by the successful buyer?”

The HLF publicly said that it “recognises the emotional connection” and that it “has been fully committed to a community-owned pier” … and in your own report they say that the aim was that the heritage asset be sold to the party best able to maintain it for the “benefit for Hastings and the wider community.”

You say :-
As administrators we cannot prefer one bid over another on emotional or other, non-commercial grounds.”
Well that of course begs the question – why not ?  Do you not represent the creditors?
If the main creditor makes it central to its wishes, are you not instructed by them?

This is what it means to be an administrator but it does have the benefit to bidders that it is a completely level playing field leading to a totally transparent process

Level Playing field” ?    On many ‘levels’ we disagree with this statement … A commercial bid versus a community bid is already not level.   But the main point is that a level playing field needs rules, processes and timescales that are clear to all bidders throughout.

Totally Transparent” ???     In what way do you feel it was transparent ?   There are so many questions above.

It is now three weeks later and we don’t even know basic information such as the final sale price !

So …..

Please reply as soon as is practical.   You know me well enough to know that I am creative and tenacious … I would rather spend my energies in helping the pier become a first class tourist attraction than in publicly and noisily trying to shed light on a sometimes cloudy and opaque process.

I look forward to your honest and open reply …

I think both I, and the People of Hastings and St. Leonards who had so much invested in the pier – deserve as much,

All the very best,
Adam.


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