Elaine Cartwright

I started working for OwnerShips in October 2002, so had the pleasure of working alongside Philip Duerden until he left in July 2003. I then left OwnerShips myself in 2004, shortly before Chris Hanley joined, so my posting here is intended to fill in the gap between Philip and Chris, although of necessity there is some overlap with Philip.

At the start of my employment, the plans for Allen's "concept" boat were already well underway, but it soon became clear that Philip and Allen didn’t see eye to eye on this new venture. Philip told me that he wanted nothing to do with it because he thought it would be a complete financial disaster, just like the barges that he’d previously warned Allen against building. Allen, on the other hand, described it to me as a "great money making scheme for his retirement”, with “no risk to OwnerShips” as it was a “completely separate venture".

Having been taken on to work 28 hours a week, over 4 days, I was astounded at the amount of work that Philip and I were expected to get through and longer hours were a necessity, not a choice. Allen reassured me that this was not the norm and that between April and September I could expect to get back to my contracted hours. This didn’t happen. On the plus side, both Philip and I had a good sense of humour and a similar work ethic, which meant we both gave 100%, using cheerful banter to get us through some very trying times. Although later Allen used my cheerful disposition against me to suggest that I was happy with the situation.

Allen was very plausible and, at first, I too was taken in by him, willingly going the “extra mile” to support him through the stresses and strains of a difficult personal life, excusing his lack of focus in the office, whilst accepting that insufficient funds for more staff and a decent infrastructure were a necessary evil of running a small business. Only much later did I realise that OwnerShips for Allen was an “ego trip”.

As time went on Philip seemed to become more and more stressed, which I assumed was because Allen was spending less time on OwnerShips business, concentrating instead on his new venture and leaving us to take up the slack. Towards the end of 2002, Allen announced that Philip would have to go to France to take responsibility for the winter works there, something that Allen had previously done himself. For my part, I’d been given Allen’s share sales and most of his other administrative work to do. Obviously, Allen was not completely out of the OwnerShips loop, but he was certainly not involved to the same extent as before and it got worse throughout the following year.

Joan Lindeman provided some help in the office, but other forms of help provided by Allen were a disaster. Philip got help on winter works that lasted about two weeks and for a short time I had a filing clerk that hated filing and an administrative assistant who was “away with the fairies” so all her worked had to be checked and double-checked. All really nice people but not the help we needed!

My first inkling that Philip might leave OwnerShips was when Allen asked me if I could manage to run the company finances if Philip left and he seemed rather panic stricken when I said no. Coincidentally, in May 2003, my husband Glynn was offered a voluntary redundancy package by the accountancy firm that had employed him since graduation, which he was intent upon taking. As he hadn’t been planning to retire this soon he had no immediate plans, so volunteered to give some time to OwnerShips, free of charge. As Glynn saw it, he would be occupied during the long hours I was at work and he might even get to indulge his own passion for canal boats now and again. Shortly afterwards Philip resigned and Allen asked me if I would approach Glynn about becoming an employee rather than a volunteer, which I did and then left them to negotiate. Despite Allen’s assertions later, I didn’t recommend that he employee Glynn, in fact the only involvement I had in the process was to put Allen and Glynn in contact with one another, having already confirmed to Allen that we would have no difficulty working together and that if things didn’t work out between Glynn and Allen I wouldn’t walk out in sympathy.

When Philip left I was aware that Allen’s concept boat was at the heart of the problem between them, but not the full extent of the issue. Glynn started working for OwnerShips about a week before Philip left thinking that he was going to be responsible for the finances and some of the boat maintenance. Instead, Allen brought in a dedicated Operations Manager so that Glynn was left with the finances and some general administration duties, which leads me onto the subject of the Sinking Fund and Client accounts.

The idea of a separate Sinking Fund account for every boat was a good one at the outset, but with more and more boats being added to the scheme it was becoming an administrative nightmare. By using the “tagging” technology available in the accounting system it was possible to run one account, whilst still keeping each boat’s fund separate. Every boat would still have an individual sinking fund account available for scrutiny and on the plus side greater efficiencies could be achieved, leaving less room for error. The boatyards were happy because they were now only receiving one cheque per payment period, instead of one for every trivial amount, there was more scope to earn interest on the money, there was no need for any delay banking cheques whilst new accounts were in the process of being opened and there were less cheques to write and bank statements to file, thus improving office efficiency.

Now, given my knowledge of the way the Sinking Fund account was set up, I’m struggling to understand how it was possible for money to be misappropriated as suggested, so maybe that’s a question for your meeting on the 8th. In simple terms, every owner would have know at the end of 2003 how much money was left in the Sinking Fund for their boat, they would also have know what their contributions were, year on year, and in addition, owners would have known what work was done on their boat each year and the cost of such work.

On that basis, I would be asking how payments going through this account, but not attributed to an individual boat, were accounted for in the system, was the overall account seriously overdrawn, and why were any irregularities not picked up during the Sinking Fund account reconciliation.

With regard to the Client Account, Glynn carried out a full reconciliation, which from memory went back as far as 1996. He was very concerned to discover a deficit in excess of £100,000, which appeared to have been brought forward from the previous accounting system. Glynn spoke to Allen about what he had uncovered and asked where he would find the previous records so that he could complete the reconciliation and report his findings. Allen was extremely unhappy that Glynn had carried out the reconciliation at all and from then on began to find fault with Glynn’s work.

Glynn had also questioned Allen’s use of money from the Client account to fund his “concept boat”, on the basis that it was nothing to do with OwnerShips and the owners were not aware that their money was being used in this way. Glynn agreed with Philip’s opinion that the “concept boat” would not sell and suggested that Allen apply for marine finance to fund his venture, but Allen disagreed, confident that once his boat got to the boat show in 2004 he would be inundated with orders. Needless to say Philip and Glynn were both proved right. By this time marine finance was not an option and Allen, unsuccessfully it seems, approached Barclays Bank for a loan. Only later did I discover that Allen had told his owners that the bank had funded his new project and told that bank that his owners had!

By now, neither of us were at all comfortable about continuing to work for OwnerShips, but we decided that by staying we might be able to persuade Allen to take steps to get OwnerShips finances back on track. Clearly we didn’t know of Philip’s previous efforts in this regard. Anyway, matters were soon taken out of our hands when Allen fired Glynn as soon as the OwnerShips show was over. Allen had already recruited our replacements for after the show, although he told us they were additional staff. I later discovered that I was expected to walk out in sympathy but didn’t because I had previously given my word that I wouldn’t.

Eventually, I was forced to leave because of Allen’s behaviour towards me, and the effect this had on my health. However, I later sought legal advice and, when I was well enough, put in a claim for “Constructive, Unfair Dismissal and won. Unfortunately, the winning held no pleasure for me because I was not in it for the money. If I had been then I would have accepted the payout that Allen Matthews offered me to drop the case.

The more important thing for me was to get Glynn’s evidence into the public domain. Sadly, Glynn died, suddenly and unexpectedly, just a few days before my tribunal hearing was due to be heard, but his statement of evidence had been sent to my legal team, so was still available to be read out. Unfortunately, I cannot include anything from his statement in this posting because Allen Matthews was successful in getting it excluded from the proceedings. However, I can report what was said in the open hearing, which was that, Glynn’s evidence should be excluded on the grounds that it contains allegations of a fraudulent nature that cannot now be challenged and could be damaging to Mr Matthew’s business. If the evidence had stayed in it would have been in the public domain and owners could have been made aware of it in 2005!

I make no apology for the length of this posting, it’s 5 years today since my husband died and I have had to wait until now to set the record straight. Allen Matthews had it all sown up, owners meetings, correspondence with owners and a message board, where he had the right of veto (unmonitored” until it suited him). All used to differing degrees to blame past members of staff for things that had gone wrong and then buying back owners shares if they dared to question anything too closely. I’m only sorry that Glynn is no longer here to see him finally exposed and that the last years of Glynn’s life were sullied by knowing Allen Matthews.

It was the owners and staff that made OwnerShips great not Allen Matthews. He may have had the original idea, but the fact that it worked was thanks to the dedication of the staff (often working in very difficult conditions) and the owners who bought into the scheme. So whatever any of you end up doing it’s not the OwnerShips name that matters it’s that you continue to enjoy your boating and salvage something from this sorry mess that Allen Matthews has created. Good luck to you all.

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