Cafe Britannia liquidation

16 November, 2019 – 06:15

Davina Tanner at Cafe Britannia. Picture: Matt Keal / mattkealphotography

Copyright:mattkealphotography

The doors to some of Norwich’s best-loved cafes have firmly shut, but their closure leaves many questions still open.

Tom Bristow reports.

ShareCafe Britannia was owned by Britannia Enterprises which has fallen into liquidation. Picture: ArchantCafe Britannia was owned by Britannia Enterprises which has fallen into liquidation. Picture: Archant

‘Mollie’ is sitting in a car park behind the Fiveways pub in Earlham.

Cafe 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 cafes 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.

Cafe Britannia vehicles parked behind the Fiveways pub in Earlham last week.
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pPhoto: ArchantCafe Britannia vehicles parked behind the Fiveways pub in Earlham last week. Photo: Archant

It has assets of just over GBP9,000 but owes almost GBP630,000. 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.

Cafe Britannia food van at Waterloo Park. Picture: Cafe BritanniaCafe Britannia food van at Waterloo Park.

Picture: Cafe Britannia

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 GBP91,000 to trade creditors; less than two years later that figure has tripled to GBP270,000.

Meanwhile the assets of the company have collapsed since 2017 from GBP357,000 to GBP9,000.

Cafe Britannia at HMP Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCafe Britannia at HMP Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

In its last accounts its assets included GBP244,000 in investments and GBP83,000 worth of vehicles.

One of Ms Tanner’s companies, called Moody Deals Ltd, runs the Fiveways pub, which would explain why the Cafe Britannia food truck is there, but what has happened to the rest of the company’s assets? That question was not answered. 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.

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We also asked Ms Tanner why such large amounts were owed to individual businesses.

Two of its biggest creditors, owed almost GBP42,000 and GBP45,000, are finance leasing firms who fund vehicles and equipment, called Academy Leasing Limited and Credo Asset Finance. More than GBP90,000 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 GBP90,000 is owed to HMP Norwich, where Cafe 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 GBP65,000, directors are owed GBP45,000, while the taxman has lost out by GBP40,000.

Another GBP16,000 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 cafe 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 has an OBE for her work rehabilitating prisoners at Cafe Britannia.

She also 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 Cafe 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 Cafe Britannia Limited.

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