Outrage after '˜substantial debt' tallied up at Gosport hotel

MORE than £100,000 of debt was racked up by the former operator of an historic Gosport hotel.

Tuesday, 1st January 2019, 4:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 11:22 am
David and Abby Thomson, who recently took over the Alverbank Country House Hotel. Picture: David George

The Alverbank Country House Hotel in Stokes Bay recently came under new management after the lease was reclaimed by owner Gosport Borough Council.

A confidential council report, seen by The News, said that former manager, John Morgan, of Pridewatch Services Hotels, had rent arrears of more than £70,000.

The council has now confirmed that the total debt was around £132,000.

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Alverbank Country House Hotel, Gosport

But the Conservative-controlled council has faced criticism from the Liberal Democrats after the chief executive, David Williams, used his executive powers to give the hotel to former Tory council candidate Abby Thomson.

Mrs Thomson owns the Seahorse pub in Gosport.

Lib Dem leader, Councillor Peter Chegwyn, said: '˜I'm assuming we won't get that money back from Pridewatch Services Hotels, but I also wonder how long that debt built up before something was done.

'˜The first time we heard about the takeover was when we saw it in the press.

'˜I believe the hotel's (management) should have gone to open tender '“ instead of being given to a former Conservative party candidate.

'˜It's no fault of Abby's '“ she runs a great pub and will do a good job with the Alverbank '“ but councillors weren't told about the decision until after it was made. To me, it feels like a dodgy decision made behind closed doors.'

Chairman of the council's economic development board, Cllr Stephen Philpott, insisted a decision had to be made by the chief executive to protect the future of the hotel.

He said: '˜The hotel is part of the council's standing orders, and is the delegated authority of the chief executive. The papers were brought before the economic development board '“ I was told about it 24 hours before the meeting.

'˜It was the chief executive's decision, but one that had to be made for the sake of the building, for the people who work there and people who had made bookings.

'˜The choice before Mr Williams was to find a replacement or lay off the staff and let down the people with weddings and parties planned, with no certainty about the hotel's future.

'˜The former (operator) failed his obligations to the council and to the building '“ it's as simple as that.'

Leader of the council, Cllr Mark Hook, said the council hopes to recover the money still owed by Pridewatch Services Hotels.

He said: '˜It was a substantial debt that was owed to the council.

'˜There is still an opportunity for Pridewatch to get the lease back, if they come back to repay the debt.

'˜We will continue to pursue the outstanding amounts owed to us.'

Tom Southall is head of property at Gosport Borough Council.

He said: '˜The council's priority was to keep the hotel open, so people didn't lose their jobs and so events that had been booked, like weddings, could go ahead.

'˜There was no legal requirement for it to go out to tender '“ the tenant, Pridewatch, had been marketing the business widely.

'˜The council could not have put the hotel out to tender with a tenant in place, because that would have been against the terms of the lease. It could not have removed the tenant and then put the hotel out to tender, because that would have put jobs and weddings at risk.

'˜However, in the event, the council was approached by several local businesses, two of whom made firm financial offers.

'˜It chose the most suitable of these, and was able to arrange a smooth handover without interruption.'

The new manager of the Alverbank Country House Hotel, Mrs Thomson, said she did express an interest to the chief executive '“ but is now focusing on the job in hand.

She said: '˜I've always spoken about how important tourism is to Gosport and there is huge potential in the Alverbank.

'˜I expressed an interest to the chief executive quite a while ago. I'm just focusing on the hotel '“ we've got a lot of work to do to get it looking how it should.'

Mrs Thomson says she is aware that the previous operators could reclaim the lease, but is busy getting on with her own plans for the hotel's future.

She said: '˜It's something that I am aware of as a possibility, but not something that I'm going to worry about.

'˜I just want to put all my effort into improving the hotel.'