Private equity firm TDR Capital, which owns Stonegate as well as supermarket chain Asda, has announced plans to seek refinancing options for £2.5bn worth of debt.
While the pubco asserts it “remains resilient”, GMB Union warned community sites across the South-East, Dorset and Wiltshire could be put at risk due to potential increased interest payments on the debt, adding current high interest rates could result in “crippling repayments”.
The union also claimed debts had already “resulted in cost pressures” in Asda stores, claiming TDR’s handling of its off-trade arm has been “simply not good enough”.
GMB southern regional secretary Justin Bowden said: "They boast they are hard on shareholders, but they keep well away from the results of their hands-on initiatives and have refused to explain to GMB gaps in the company’s accounts - saying that the 18 companies in their opaque structure are not GMB business.
“Quite simply, this is not acceptable. The position with the Stonegate Pub Company’s finances is equally lacking in transparency, with the ultimate holding company based in the Cayman Islands.”
Bowden added TDR Capital must be “accountable to local people” and have a “duty to safeguard community assets”.
“GMB’s experience with private equity owners has been, and continues to be, wholly negative.
“We fear for the future of our local supermarkets and pubs in the hands of their private equity owners”, he continued.
This comes as TDR today (Thursday 11 January) announced it had increased its shareholding in US fried chicken quick-service restaurant brand, Popeyes UK.
A spokesperson for Stonegate, which is Britain’s largest pubco with a portfolio of more than 4,500 pub, said: “We continue to invest in our pubs and our people, in particular supporting local pubs which play such a key role in their communities.
“Our pub business remains very resilient despite the challenges our industry faces, with good like-for-like sales growth across the group.
“Following our recent successful financing announced in December as well as strong recent trading, we are well placed to deliver on our longer-term objectives, and we are very confident in our ability to re-finance at the appropriate time.”