Rebel florists request advice from QC

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The Independent Online
The battle for control of Interflora is set to take a decisive turn this week when the new board of directors running the business receives legal advice which will determine whether they can press ahead with a sweeping review of the flower delivery organisation.

The new management claimed written advice from a barrister, which could arrive today, should back up the controversial decision to ignore calls for a postal ballot of members on the ousting of the previous board a week ago. A mass meeting of almost 1,000 member florists at Warwick University had voted narrowly to dismiss the 11-strong board after complaints about increases in annual subscription charges.

David Parry, the outgoing chairman, had immediately called for a postal ballot of the entire 2,600 membership of Interflora, a mutually owned company, in the hope of overturning the vote. Last Friday a petition of 400 florists sympathetic to the old board was delivered to Interflora's headquarters at Seaford in Lincolnshire.

Under the organisation's articles of association the management apparently has to hold a full ballot if backed by sufficient members.

However Geoffrey Hughes, the replacement chairman appointed by the rebel florists, was confident that legal opinion would show the result at the meeting could stand.

"We've received support from hundreds of members saying they voted with their feet for a new board and the postal ballot would be a nonsense. Our solicitors have advised me the call for a postal ballot is not legal in the way it is being done, but we've taken advice from a Queen's Counsel."

The advice could determine whether the outgoing management's radical plans to turn Interflora into a fully fledged company can proceed. Mr Parry has already said he may take legal action himself if the new board continues to refuse to hold a ballot. The row has already resulted in the resignation of Brian Ward as company secretary.

Mr Hughes, who runs four shops in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, vowed to press ahead with a probe into the business, which runs the central administrative organisation of Interflora with an annual turnover of around pounds 100m. He said he needed to make a "stringent review" of its finances, though he denied that the rebels were opposed to modernising Interflora's structure.

"I'm having every single nook and cranny investigated. There are one or two internal matters which will become clear in the next few weeks," said Mr Hughes.