Company should ‘put hands up or reassure the public’
LOCAL MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has called for a full disclosure of the financial state of the West Somerset Railway after shareholders were asked to delay publishing the company’s latest accounts.
An extraordinary general meeting is being held in Wellington next Saturday (August 10) when shareholders will be asked to approve a further deferral in publishing the 15-month accounts to March this year, originally scheduled to be released in June.
Chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt has already warned that when they are revealed, the figures will detail “significant financial losses” to the company resulting from some “critical business failures”.
He also said the WSR faces bills running into hundreds of thousands of pounds for renewing worn-out track following inspections by the government transport safety watchdog, the Office of Road and Rail.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said this week: “Delaying production of accounts is an exercise which is bound, rightly or wrongly, to increase speculation that all is not well.
“If that is the case, then the company needs to put its hand up. If it is not, then equally, it should move quickly to reassure the public.”
In a letter to WSR shareholders, Mr JonesPratt said he was asking for a delay in publishing the accounts because the board was “currently experiencing some very time-consuming problems, both in carrying out a major restructuring process and bringing an annual account and report together.
“We are therefore asking you to agree to a change in the articles to facilitate a short delay in completing them.”
Mr Jones-Pratt said that at the meeting, members would also be provided with a more general update on the current state of the railway and some of the challenges faced in the weeks and months ahead.
He added: “We must go back to our roots as a volunteer-led business and create an environment that encourages small teams of volunteers to work on providing support in some of the administrative areas where we have previously had to employ paid staff.
“I believe this is the only way we will survive and I am determined to make the changes in both our board and management structure to facilitate this change in culture.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger urged the company to make a “full, honest and accurate” public statement about its financial state – and par- ticularly its liabilities.
“Obviously this is initially a matter for shareholders but every one of my West Somerset constituents has a stake in that railway, whether they use it or not,” he said.
“Assuming things are as difficult as the chairman has indicated then there might be some means of gathering more financial support for the railway from local people.
“What is certain is that no-one will be interested in helping out until we have an accurate appraisal of its financial health delivered via a credible set of accounts - and as soon as possible.”
Printed in West Somerset Free Press on Friday 2nd August 2019