Works Must Pay

How roadworks hell ruined my pub, and I was left without a voice

By Oli Gross contact

- Last updated on GMT

How roadworks hell ruined my pub, and I was left without a voice

Related tags: Business, Small business

Jamie Pike, tenant at the Upton Inn, South Gloucestershire, told Oli Gross of the ‘hell’ he experienced when roadworks devastated his pub. Pike contacted the Morning Advertiser after discovering our campaign, Works Must Pay, which is fighting for a fairer compensation system for licensees.

The Upton Inn is in the small village of Upton Cheyney between Bristol and Bath. We’re based at the top of a hill near a road, which 90% of our customers use to get to us.

Two years ago, there was a very wet winter that caused severe flooding. Cracks appeared in the road and an investigation found there was a serious land slippage.

The Highways Agency closed the road overnight. Diversions took people further away from us; customers didn’t come in case they found themselves in a construction site. The road signs put up said ‘business open as usual’, but the overriding message felt like ‘road closed’.

Business started to die

My business effectively started to die and my turnover was decimated. I was losing £15,000 a quarter minimum. We’re a tenanted business and we trade hand to mouth, so we can’t really afford a bad day because our costs are fixed.

It didn’t take me long to work out that if the projected nine months of closures went ahead we would be out of business. I’m not under-insured, I pay everything to make sure me, my family and team are safeguarded.

What staggered me is there is no way for mitigating circumstances to be taken into account when seeking compensation.

All the logic I had come to expect just didn’t apply. Roadworks are not factored in – as a business you owe your taxes and rates.

It was hell

I couldn’t afford them and I was hiding from my creditors. It was hell.

We had a trading history, it was all there to see. My accounts showed my record of paying my rates, my tax, my bills. But now, all of a sudden, I couldn’t pay them.

Even now after the significant dip in income, I’m still being made to pay the rates I don’t trade at any more.

Insult to injury

And all the while I was reading soundbites about Government pledges to rural business, and it added insult to injury because it just didn’t ring true. I always knew I was a small business owner, but I had no idea how small until I was faced with this.

I found myself without a voice. I never felt the victim before but I had lost confidence and lost drive.

People working for me started to lose faith as my offer was being ruined. I had never been so lonely and never been so worried. I’ve always been confident in my ability, but now I wasn’t.

New habits

I assumed things would snap back when the road reopened because we had been actively marketing and advertising, but it wasn’t the case.

People had formed new habits and new relationships with other pubs. I almost went under for nine months and then I was faced with another two years to get back to normal.

I had savings for emergencies but they were depleted. I lost a £20,000 deposit I had saved for a house and all the reserves I had as a safety net for the business. I was on my knees.

No support

I exhausted all avenues looking for help. I wasn’t met with any pantomime villains, nobody said ‘screw you, we don’t care’, but we had no support.

During the worst of it, I tried to get a reduction in my rates from South Gloucestershire council. Luckily my local councillor, Erica Williams, who thankfully I know personally, said to them ‘he shouldn’t be paying rates, he’s on his arse’, and eventually I had my payments stopped for a short period.

But if I hadn’t known her, there is no avenue for someone like me to gain access. Everybody was very polite but there was no way anyone would come and discuss the issue.

We had charities phoning me asking ‘are you OK to feed your family?’ It wasn’t until I had a phone call like that my knees started to go weak because I thought, ‘I don’t know’. The knots in my stomach and the lack of sleep got worse and worse.

Damaged offer

We traded out of it by changing our business and our offer. The locals who did come back could see it was changing and we weren’t as good. We’re back to our best now, but at the time it was a mess and I didn’t know what to do.

My landlord, Hall & Woodhouse, was fantastic. We got through it because of their support. I wasn’t asking for charity, I never was, but anyone can see this is something you cannot deal with on your own.

We need to preserve businesses that are local employers. Politicians were happy to stand next to me for photos but it never led to us getting anything.

We made it through, but where do the people who don’t make it end up? Glossed over and forgotten about.

Related topics: Legislation

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