Owner of collapsed taxi company JR Travel says ‘every day was a struggle’ as he tried to save his company
- Credit: Su Anderson
The co-owner of a taxi, coach and mini-bus hire company in Ipswich has blamed a tax gripe with HMRC for the company falling into financial meltdown last month.
Andy Fisk describes “slanderous comments and threats” made against him on Facebook as “unfair”, and says he is “completely gutted” about the collapse of his company, JR Executive Travel.
Mr Fisk and Ian Tooke bought the business based at Little Copdock House on London Rd in Ipswich, which was also known as JR Travel, in a management buyout deal in 2015 from father and son team Malcolm and Glyn Roberts, who had run the company for 12 years.
Mr Fisk claims that the root of their financial woes was the £300,000 that JR Travel as a company owed to HMRC, because “taxi drivers who were self employed should have been classed as employees.”
The cash that JR Travel was liable to pay to HMRC was backdated to 2013, two years prior to when Mr Fisk and Mr Tooke took on the company. “Prior to us buying the company, HMRC had been investigating JR Travel,” Mr Fisk claimed. “We were in the line of fire. We thought about taking them (the previous owners) to court, but there was no money to do it because of the tight budget we had to work with.”
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However, Glyn Roberts disputes that he and his father were responsible. “We knew nothing about any money owed to HMRC at the time when we sold the business,” he said. “We would have paid our share of it, if we had known. But we were never allowed to speak to HMRC, because the money was owed by the company, not by us.”
When Mr Fisk and Mr Roberts initially bought JR Travel for £1.8m, they raised £1.1m through crowdfunding and deferred the remaining £700,000 to pay back to the Roberts on November 3, 2018.
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However JR Travel went into administration just a few weeks before the payback date.
Glyn Roberts claims that under he and his father’s leadership, JR Travel had been a profitable company, making £500,000 a year in profit.
Mr Fisk and Mr Tooke had taken a £950,000 loan from the lender ThinCats to initially buy JR Travel, and they had been paying back £28,000 each month to the companies they owed money to. “Everything was done so tightly,” he said. “We took on more work to try to make ends meet, getting extra contracts for school runs to Ipswich School.
“But one of our drivers was caught using her phone on one of our buses - we lost the contract and went back to square one.”
Mr Fisk says that six months before going into administration, he and Mr Tooke had contacted KSA insolvency practitioners about undertaking a CVA (creditors voluntary administration), but had decided against it. “The problem was that a CVA would mean everyone would stop giving us credit,” he explained. “The fuel card company, for example, demands money up-front, and some companies would have a right to cancel existing contracts.
“I am completely gutted about what’s happened. I pushed and pushed every day, but it was a struggle.”
At the time of going into administration, JR Travel employed 30 staff and 17 sub contractors, and Mr Fisk said that he had been “concerned” about the fate of his drivers.
The taxi, coach and minibus hire company Manorside Travel, which Mr Fisk’s partner Victoria Richardson is the director of, has been meeting some of JR Travel’s previous commitments, and “trying to salvage what we could,” Mr Fisk said.
The former telephone line and website for JR Travel are now redirected to Manorside Travel, and Mr Fisk said he is currently working as a driver for Manorside Travel.
“What do they want me to do? Just stand down and walk away?” said Mr Fisk, in response to those who have criticised him on social media. “I have a personal relationship with some of our customers going back years. Its just so unfortunate that we couldn’t pay back some of the garages we have done work with. I feel bad about that.”
But Glyn Roberts continues to blame Mr Fisk and Mr Tooke, adding: “We are taking up some of our issues with lawyers as soon as the administration process is wrapped up.”
Mr Fisk is also threatening legal action, claiming that he has solicitors looking into what he describes as “slanderous feedback” about him on Facebook.
Despite the criticism that Mr Fisk and Mr Tooke have received, Mr Fisk says: “our customers have been behind us 100%.”