Closure a big blow, catering boss says
Caterer Fiona Wright. Photo: Gary Schafer
Distraught Canberra caterer Fiona Wright says she is ''devastated'' that her life's work is being ''torn apart'' by decisions she believes are ''unfounded and callous''.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered that Ms Wright's companies be placed into liquidation and be wound up.
It also appointed Henry Kazar from Canberra firm Kazar Slaven as liquidator.
Mr Kazar will be working to maximise the value of the companies' assets and that could involve continuing to keep Ms Wright's businesses trading in the short-term.
That does little to ease the concerns of what is understood to be 120 workers employed by the businesses, Ten and A Half Catering and Wrights Fine Food.
Ms Wright confirmed, through a statement yesterday, that she had been hit with an ''unexpected'' outstanding payroll tax bill that she had been working with the Revenue Office and Tax Office to repay.
But she claims problems related to working under contract with the National Gallery of Australia had contributed to her companies being liquidated.
''An administrator has been appointed and all arms of this catering company have been liquidated, even though such a disastrous outcome for the company and staff could easily have been avoided if the gallery had behaved in a different manner,'' she said.
''We are seeking legal advice.''
The gallery has refused to respond to the allegations other than to say it is working with the liquidator examining Ms Wright's businesses.
A spokeswoman for the gallery would only say that ''our priority is to ensure we continue business as usual''.
Ten and A Half has the catering contract for the National Gallery of Australia and runs the Civic restaurant Dieci e Mezzo.
Wrights Fine Food has the catering contract for the Department of Defence's Russell and Campbell Park cafes.
Ms Wright, a long-serving president of the ACT Restaurant and Catering Association, said she had devoted 30 years of her life to ''bringing catering excellence to Canberra''.
''I have employed hundreds of staff over the years, and have been fortunate that many remain my closest friends,'' she said.
''I am proud of my achievements. My career is my passion and I have always looked for the next challenge to deliver Canberra the best of dining experiences.
''Our record shows we have achieved this many times over.
''This week has come as a terrible blow and I am devastated to witness my life's work be torn apart by decisions that we believe are unfounded and callous.
''I remain convinced the story would be different if I had received a fair go and due process from the NGA - I was thrilled to have the contract and our goal to deliver the best catering in Australia has been dealt a cruel blow.''
Ms Wright said her plan to repay the outstanding payroll tax was contingent on her trading successfully at the gallery. She claimed that's where things came unstuck, alleging the gallery had not followed Commonwealth procurement guidelines properly.
Chief among the allegations is that Ms Wright's company was not allowed to take bookings directly for functions at the gallery. They were instead taken by in-house staff at the gallery.
She claims phone calls and emails went unanswered and the business missed out on ''many hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential function business''.
There are also claims her contract was not signed until nearly 18 months after she started trading at the gallery and that the contract was changed, which affected the way she could do business there.
A spokeswoman for the gallery said it would not respond to the allegations.