A LEADING councillor has come under fire after the car firm he ran went bust – owing cash to local businesses.
Prominent Conservative Cllr Patrick Warner (pictured) started Sterling Automotive Ltd back in 2006 and saw it grow to take in clients from not only all over Sussex and the south east, but also further afield in the UK and mainland Europe.
However, by September last year the company had run into financial problems and was liquidated – with some business being passed on to a new firm, Sterling Automotive (Brighton) Ltd.
And, while not on the board of the new businesses, Cllr Warner – who represents Sovereign Ward – is still an employee, leading to accusations he has tried to sidestep the HMRC and left some of the people owed cash now unlikely to see their money again.
Once such former associate said he rented Cllr Warner his businesses unit before being forced to call in the bailiffs over unpaid bills of around £10,000.
He has started costly legal proceedings in a bid to get his cash.
Cllr Warner however fiercely denies any underhand motives are behind the Brighton businesses and said that the new firm also now operates servicing from an Eastbourne base – arguing it was purely the sales side of things which ran the initial firm into trouble and that the two companies’ finances are not and never have been connected.
He also claims his former landlord has been offered a series of payment plans to recoup the lapsed rents and he has taken in-depth legal advice at every step.
Speaking to the Herald, Cllr Warner defended his track record and said he had no intention of letting it affect his work on the local authority – kicking into touch calls to resign.
He said that if anything his recent experience in business ‘probably better prepares me to show understanding and be supportive to the many other local people who have faced similar challenges’.
He said expansion plans started in 2009 which included adding a new MG franchise were hit by a change in the car giant’s overseas ownership.
“Sadly this dramatically changed our short to medium-term opportunity and without the resources of a much larger group behind us, trading became more and more challenging,” he said.
“A great deal of effort went in to trying to turn the sales situation around but sadly a very limited range and the general economic climate combined meant that the situation could not be turned around.
“A restructuring plan was looked seriously at to refocus the business on its core service related activities so that we could ensure all of the small number of creditors could be paid the money they were owed but due to the inflexibility of a tiny minority and after seeking legal advice, it soon became clear that this would not be possible.”
He added that before shutting up shop in September, he had contributed around £200,000 in taxes, supported a string of local charities and community groups and given employment to a number of local people.
Cllr Warned said, “Like many small business owners I have worked enormously hard over very long hours, often over all seven days of the week, to prevent failure.
“I have tried to lead by example and have not benefited from the failure of Sterling Automotive Ltd in anyway and will in fact continue to pay a heavy price for a number of years in the form of some personally guaranteed debt.”