Conviviality auditors could face the wrath of accountancy watchdog

The accountancy watchdog could probe Conviviality after the chairman of the parliamentary work and pensions committee called for an investigation into the “mess” that paralysed the firm.

The Bargain Booze, Wine Rack, Matthew Clark and Bibendum owner will slip into administration within nine working days after a string of financial mishaps, oversights and errors.

Frank Field MP said Conviviality’s auditor, KPMG, must answer questions for failing to flag accounting errors that contributed to the group’s imminent demise.

“This is a mess,” he said. “Increasingly these audit reports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. The auditors are taking us all for a ride and the sooner the government decide what they’re going to do about it the better.”

The firm’s 2,500-plus employees now fear for their livelihoods, along with 370 franchisees and those that work in their stores.

Some Bargain Booze store managers and owners are desperately scrabbling for drinks to fill their shelves ahead of the Easter rush, while other shops are simply closed.

Bargain Booze Tweeted yesterday to say that many stores were open for business and urged shoppers to visit their local outlet.

But it was met with scorn by staff member Carole Flannigan, who said: “What's the point of being open? We have hardly any stock. Thanks a lot, 17 years I’ve worked for you and we mean jack shit to you.”

However, franchisee Paul Stephenson, who has stores in Barrow, struck a more upbeat note. “It is business as usual for us and jobs are not at risk. I can say 100 per cent there will be no job losses at all in my stores,” he said.

“With it being a franchise that's where we get our stock from but it doesn't have any reflection on us other than that. We could set up alternative support, and Conviviality have been trying tirelessly to sort it out for us.

“Conviviality has not gone into administration, and there is a lot of interest with regards to a buyout.”

The on-trade supply chain has been plunged into chaos as some producers have put stop orders on Matthew Clark and Bibendum, which supply 23,000 outlets, and pubs and bars have been drawing up contingency plans.

“We are hoping that the company can sort it out as they have been a good supplier to us for 20 years,” said Wetherspoons.

Rumours are flying around that a brewer or cidermaker like AB Inbev, Heineken or Magners supplier C&C could end up purchasing Matthew Clark, while the grocers and the symbol groups like Spar and Costcutter are in the running to take on Bargain Booze and Wine Rack.

Rival suppliers to Conviviality are divided into two groups: some, like Hills Prospect and Lanchester, have sensed an opportunity to pick up new clients and are touting their wares, arguing that businesses need supply during this crucial trading period, while the rest are warning that now is not the time to stick the knife into Conviviality.

Several heated rows have been taking place across social media regarding this issue, and they look set to rage on as uncertainty grips the industry.

Independent wine merchants also sense an opportunity to supply local pubs, bars and restaurants.

“Are you pub or restaurant struggling for wine supply thanks to the collapse of Conviviality?” said Yorkshire wine merchant Sean Welsh. “Then your local independent wine merchant can probably help.”

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