Friday, 16 April 2010

Council's potential retail partner ASCO closes Warrington store

(Updated 22/4/10, quote from Anne Chapman addded): ASCO Supermarket Warrington, launched to great fanfare just five months ago and owned by the company approached by Lancaster City Council to take over the Lancaster Market building, has closed.

The Warrington Guardian reports the closure follows the issuing of a winding up order by a supplier claiming £25,620 for signage that has not been paid for.

ASCO took over a former Woolworths site in the town, but as we reported previously, was beset with problems, including making staff redundant within weeks of opening.

The winding up order, made by Evolve Group, based in Haydock, whose petition is due to be heard in the commercial court in Liverpool in May, would seem to be the final curtain for the supermarket.

Opponents of the City Council scheme to replace Lancaster Market with a single retailer - revealed to be ASCO, the company name at first kept secret - had warned of the company's unsteady history.

A huge campaign against the proposal, led by Market traders, saw the plans thrown out by Full Council earlier this month.

However, a huge number of councillors - including Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat leader of the Council, Stuart Langhorn, who is also Lancaster and Fleetwood's prospective candidate in the General Election - voted against the Green Party proposed rescue plan for the Market.

Had the Cabinet plan to partner with ASCO gone ahead unopposed, it appears the City Council would have been partnered with a company that is now in deep financial trouble, as many predicted.

"This is what we all feared would happen and I am not in the least surprised," said Green councillor Anne Chapman, commenting on the closure of ASCO's Warrington branch. "This confirms my view that it was right for the council to back the Green group motion to regenerate and improve the market.

"In the medium term, this is the best was to reduce the defecit and to keep people in work."

A spokesman for Asco said of the Warrington closure: ‘Sadly that is the case at the moment. It is a temporary situation only."


Anonymous said...

I imagine that the possibility of scamming some cash out of our incredibly gullible city council was all that was keeping their doors open.

Who was responsible for the disastrous initiative that led to Lancaster City Council actually approaching Asco and offering them who knows how much in sweeteners to close down umpteen market businesses that are actually going concerns?

That would be Corporate Director (Regeneration) Heather McManus and head of Property Services Graham Cox, who was actually present at the cabinet meeting of 16th Feb to oversee the launch of this mess.

All cabinet members except the Greens were fooled into imagining that the council's officers had actually carried out some form of due diligence.

Indeed, who would imagine that the council's officers, who are very well paid indeed for their professional input, had omitted to to make even the most cursory Google investigation of Asco, which would have have immediately set alarm bells ringing. And did, once the name became common knowledge thanks to the Morecambe Visitor and other sources.

But it's coming to something when the Green party councillors (the only ones to vote against the proposed deal, which would have been a most appalling disaster) repeatedly turn out to be the most financially astute and responsible people in the Town Hall.

The world turned upside down, indeed.

John Freeman said...

Our information is that this isn't quite accurate. The council officers did advise Cabinet about ASCO back in February and Green councillor Jon Barry says Cabinet was shown information about Asco, including their overdraft facilities, that rang alarm bells.

That was just one of the reasons the Green voted against the scheme.

While council staff and some councillors clearly haven't handled this whole situation well, we should be clear that, as virtual-lancaster understands it, staff advice seems to have been that caution was advised.

However, because that part of the Cabinet meeting in February is considered 'commercially sensitive' there are no public records.

Perhaps in the interests of putting local people's minds at rest, given that ASCO themselves subsequently confirmed their involvement (as reported in the Visitor and by us), the full minutes of that February meeting should now be made public - or certainly scrutinized by some external audit, to ensure councillors were advised correctly?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thankfully, Ted Ward HAS been stopped! He was disqualified from being a company director for 12 years back in March.