Patisserie Valerie was founded in 1926 in London, and by 2018 had around 200 shops and cafes employing 3000 people. Then in October 2018, the company announced there was potential fraudulent accounting irregularities at the company and shares in the company were suspended. Subsequent investigations found the company had overstated its cash by £30 million and had not disclosed debts of £10 million.
The company collapsed in January 2019 and went into administration with KPMG acting as the administrator. This meant KPMG were responsible for the running of the company and negotiated with its creditors. There was a management-led buyout of the company, which allowed it to continue operating under new ownership, 70 shops were closed and 900 people lost their jobs.
The Financial Reporting Council report into Grant Thornton said the auditors failed to comply with the “relevant requirements” of audit by not testing the cash and revenue figures provided by the company, missed “red flags” in the evidence, and not challenging management on their financial practices. The report stated there was “a pattern of serious lapses” in the professional judgement, scepticism, obtaining audit evidence and supervision of their audit team.
Ross Topping is a young person from Newcastle, who worked at a branch of Patisserie Valerie in the city for just under two years when it closed in January 2019. He launched a Change.org petition to get the new owners to pay wages owed to former staff, such as himself. After a period of depression, he found a new job at Nando’s but continues to be anxious that something will happen to his job as a result of his experience with Patisserie Valerie.
It was just sheer luck that I got my job at Patisserie Valerie. I went with my CV and was looking for my first proper job. The manager and I just clicked, and I got the job. I was there just under two years, working in the kitchen, and it was honestly the best job I ever had. The staff got along well, like a family, helping each other through the days and going on staff nights out. It was perfect.
A bit before Christmas 2018 rumours started flying around about the company. A week or two before we closed down the manager laid it out to us and said we would be ok because our shop was the best one in the region. It made the most money, was the best performing, and she promised our jobs were safe. It was the same with the head office who emailed to say “nothing's going to happen in your shop” blah blah blah.
I felt confident that nothing was going to happen and went on a holiday I had planned, my first holiday. In the airport I was looking through a newspaper there and there was an article about the company and the problems, and it was a bit worrying. On the first day of my holiday I got a text from a colleague to say we had lost our jobs. It wasn’t even the manager telling me. I hadn’t heard anything so I started Googling and found out they’d closed the shop and laid us off without any notice.
What with being abroad, I couldn’t do much. I had stuff in my locker that I needed to get, but they had locked up the shop after they had told everyone to get out and wouldn’t let them take personal belongings. After about a fortnight they let people go in for two or three hours and a co-worker managed to get all of our stuff out and back to hers for us. We never got our last pay, we had to claim that from the government but that didn’t include holiday pay and other things. The fact that they got away with it was disgusting. No more to all of us then “you’ve got no job, bye.”
It was stressful for everyone who was laid off. Luckily, we had some help from the shop next door who said to come in and they would see what they could do about getting a job and a few people got jobs that way.
I spiralled a bit and got depression. Luckily, I managed to get better and find a job at Nando’s, which was great – but it wasn’t the same contract, it wasn’t the same pay, it wasn’t the same anything. It wasn’t as bad for me as it was for co-workers, I know one person who lost their house. Every time I hear about something going slightly wrong with a company I’ve worked for since, I get scared, panic that it’s going to happen again.
After the shop closed the guy in charge said he was going to pay staff wages and blah, blah blah, just to make himself look good. People like us, who were jobless, were just left. No help, no support, no nothing. That fact he kept shops open and kept paying them and refused to pay the staff he’d screwed over was awful. We were told our jobs were safe, that our shop wouldn’t close. We could have at least been prepared. It could have been like, “this is a real possibility this could happen,” - but no we were told it’s not going to happen, you are alright.
…and more importantly, what on earth is economics? This whole website is about starting a conversation about what economics is and could be. To work that out, we’ll need to look back at how this discipline emerged in the first place, what so-called ‘economists’ do, and what the future of economists could look like if we all became ‘citizen economists’.