Lancaster City Councillors are afraid to say the word 'Asco' for fear of being dragged before the Standards Committee. The Committee met today to determine the fate of Cllr Jon Barry, who referred to the store by name in a press release on 2 March, days after it had been discussed at a public meeting between Market Traders and Council Officers and Members, published on this blog, in the Lancaster Guardian, the Visitor and confirmed in a press release by Asco itself. The Committee's adjudication is yet to be announced.
However, in spite of the name having been common knowledge since last February, at yesterday's meeting of full council Councillors were still having to refer obliquely to 'the proposed single retailer' for fear of reprisal.
Meanwhile creditors of Asco Warrington and more recent creditors who supplied goods and services for the proposed new Asco Store in Formby have been hung out to dry by the company which was wound up in May as creditors took legal action.
The Asco Formby premises belonged to Marks & Spencer and the multi-store contract between M&S and Asco, set up by US-founded global property consultants Cushman & Wakefield, was trumpeted in the March report to council from Director of Regeneration Heather McManus, as a sign of the 'proposed single retailer's' health. She added that Asco had established credit with major suppliers. We now know that, sadly, none of them are likely to see payment for goods and services supplied over several months.
Concerns raised over how a company with no trading history and a director with no capital and a history of badly-failed ventures and unpaid debt behind him could seriously be opening up to 30 new stores simultaneously in a recession were dismissed as 'speculation'. Instead, the Council Cabinet decided to award Cushman and Wakefield an exclusive, non-competitive contract to deliver the Lancaster Market building up to Asco.
But our councillors are not allowed to talk about it. Nor can they commiserate with M&S who, as a result of the deal brokered for them by Cushman and Wakefield, are left with at least 4 empty stores in various stages of refurbishment and a host of desperate local Asco creditors, whose debts total in hundreds of thousands of pounds, some of whom are claiming that Asco told them their payment for work on the buildings would come directly from M&S, when M&S had already paid Asco - who can no longer be contacted.
Read the Virtual-Lancaster report from Tuesday 8 June, updated 15 June 2010
Green councillor accused of Lancaster Market 'leaks'