Countrywide is now “beyond salvation” according to former chief executive Harry Hill.
The industry veteran, who also founded Rightmove, made the remark on Twitter after seeing a long and highly critical Sunday Times article about the troubled agency group, which on Wednesday reveals its trading performance for the first half of 2019.
The piece threw a particularly harsh light on the chairmanship of Peter Long.
Hill tweeted yesterday lunchtime: “The fact that P Long (Sun Times today) is still in place at Cwd plc simply proves how inept his board (and major investors) are. Sadly the business is beyond salvation.”
The article, which is online but behind a paywall, says that while former chief executive Alison Platt is seen as an architect of the company’s decline, increasing attention is being paid to the role of Long.
The piece quotes a former Countrywide insider saying that Long had “thrown [Platt] under the bus in public” by criticising her after her departure, even though he himself had gone along with the changes she led and which were seen by many to have been detrimental to the company in the long term.
The article gives a chronicle of the company’s startling share price decline, its recent rights issues, the Back To Basics programme to reinvest in branches, and the ill-fated attempt of senior management to push through a bonus package that would have potentially given Long and others millions of pounds.
In recent months Countrywide has embarked on a branch closure programme that appears to have involved redundancies, although the company has refused to respond to several requests for information.
The Sunday Times story makes reference to external factors hurting much of the residential agency market, including stamp duty and the possibility that new Prime Minister Boris Johnson May reform the tax.
But if stamp duty is seen as a possible lifebelt for Countrywide by leading to a pick-up in the housing market, there is one unexpected obstacle that has to be overcome - a claim that the new Prime Minister has potential conflict of interests.
The Guardian over the weekend reported that Labour MP Ian Murray had written to a senior civil servant warning of the potential for conflicts of interest in Boris Johnson’s government if he implemented proposed policies that could potentially benefit major donors.
Murray does not allege any wrongdoing but has written to Sir Mark Sedwill saying: “It is particularly important that the public have confidence that decisions are being made in their interests and in the proper way”.
One possible conflict, Murray claims, concerns alleged donations of £60,000 during the recent Tory leadership campaign by property developers.
The letter highlights one of the principles of the ministerial code, which guides the behaviour of those in government, saying ministers “must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.