‘It’s been a huge struggle’ – How trouble over musical organs left senior Portsmouth councillor’s customers at ‘wit’s end’

Cllr Rob New. Picture: Sarah Standing
Cllr Rob New. Picture: Sarah Standing

A SENIOR councillor has admitted having a ‘huge struggle’ fixing problems at his firm selling musical organs as customers have said they are at their ‘wits’ end’.

Cllr Robert New, who is also a parliamentary aide to Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, runs Wersi Direct Ltd selling and upgrading musical organs to the tune of up to £40,000 a pop.

But customers said they had feared the firm had ‘simply disappeared’ after difficulties getting hold of Cllr New.

Problems came to a head when German firm Wersi Gmbh warned all coming to its website wersi.net that it was distancing itself from Cllr New and his company.

A pop-up notice said Cllr New’s firm was ‘suspected of repeatedly having collected funds in advance and not having supplied any instruments or conversion kits’.

It is understood Cllr New, who was until May cabinet member for community safety with Trading Standards in his remit, wants the notice removed and takes issue with it.

In a statement, Cllr New said: ‘It has been a huge struggle to try and get these remaining issues resolved but I am determined to.

‘I want to thank Wersi’s customers who I have been in contact with in recent days who have been so kind and understanding.’

The firm said it was ‘deeply sorry’ it had not been able to ‘uphold the standards of service our customers expect’ but all outstanding issues had been resolved.

One customer, an 81-year-old pensioner from Newcastle-under-Lyme, reported an allegation of fraud to Staffordshire police relating to Cllr New on January 22 after not receiving his Wersi OAS back from a £6,200 upgrade.

After receiving his instrument the next day, the man informed police who then cancelled the crime report.

‘I told (a person at the company) if nothing is done about it I would have to get in touch with the police,’ the retiree said.

‘Within 24 hours I had a phone call to say everything has been done and “he’s coming back to you”.’

He added: ‘I’d got my doubts whether I was ever going to get the instrument back.

‘To have this upgraded was £6,200, which is a lot of money.

‘I was at my wits’ end to find out what was happening.’

The pensioner, who put in his order in August 2016, finally received the instrument back in January this year.

He said Cllr New visited his home seven times to fix problems after Wersi Direct, based at Langstone Technology Park, Havant, initially sent it away to be upgraded in Germany. The instrument was collected again in December 2017.

At one point the pensioner said his repeated calls were met with an instruction not to call Cllr New as he was undergoing personal problems.

Former co-director Benjamin Scott-Hyde resigned from the business on October 27 last year, Companies House records show.

Another customer, Martyn Stribling, of Essex, said he bought a £39,995 instrument – receiving it four months later in February 2017.

It was delivered and Mr Stribling received a day’s tuition in March this year from Cllr New on the instrument, with a second day included in the deal.

Mr Stribling said: ‘However, since March, I have never managed to contact him.’

The Wersi Direct Ltd shop, run on the Shopify platform, has been taken down.

Mr Stribling added: ‘As it stands, I am left with a £40,000 instrument with no support, except perhaps direct from the manufacturer in Germany. I have no idea how I stand on warranty issues.

‘The organ was supplied with a three-year warranty but I cannot be confident it will be honoured in light of current events.’

He said his instrument had a fault and it took around three months for this to be sorted.

COMPANY STATEMENT

CUSTOMERS have been told the firm is ‘deeply sorry’ over the problems.

A Wersi Direct Ltd statement said: ‘Our business has suffered due to a range of issues we are working through with our main supply company. ‘In addition to being owed funds which has caused our liquidity to suffer we have struggled to get repairs and parts from some of our suppliers to service our customers and are working with partners to resolve. We are deeply sorry that we have not been able to uphold the standards of service our customers expect.

‘We are in contact with all our clients. All outstanding issues have been resolved to their satisfaction apart from two clients from whom we are waiting to hear.’

COUNCIL AWARE

THE city council was informed about difficulties with Cllr Rob New’s firm.

Cllr New was cabinet member for environment and community safety until May, with Trading Standards in his remit. Portsmouth City Council deputy chief executive Michael Lawther said: ‘The council was aware of one complaint, subsequently resolved, about Cllr New’s private business activities.

‘The role of the cabinet member for environment and community safety does not carry any decision-making powers in relation to trading standards operations.’