Workers on Sark who were laid off by the billionaire Barclay brothers six weeks ago have quietly had their jobs reinstated, in an apparent U-turn in the newspaper magnates' investment policy on the tiny Channel Island.
Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who own The Daily Telegraph and also Brecqhou Island off Sark, fired nearly 100 employees in December because an election there had handed a landslide victory to legislators opposed to the brothers' involvement in the island.
The vote was Sark's first wholly democratic election and the brothers had been staunch advocates of introducing greater democracy into an island that was, until recently, Europe's last feudal state. Their decision to fire the workers just weeks before Christmas caused dismay among the 600 people on the island, where the brothers own two hotels, a string of shops, and at least two restaurants.
The Barclay brothers said they were no longer willing to invest in an island that appeared not to want their involvement. But in an apparent softening of attitudes, the vast majority of those who were fired have now been rehired. Speaking yesterday to The Independent, Gordon Dawes, the brothers' lawyer in Guernsey, said: "The Barclays are not inhuman or unfeeling, and the jobs are still there. But their willingness to continue investing at £5m per annum has been tempered by the election result."
Aval du Creux, an oyster bar and restaurant owned by the brothers, reopened its doors to customers 10 days ago, and the Time and Tide restaurant will open next week. One of the Barclay-owned hotels, Dixcart, is applying for a new liquor licence and is expected to open in a few weeks' time.
Paul Amorgie, who owns the Stocks Hotel and was voted into Sark's Chief Pleas parliament on a mildly anti-Barclay platform, said he believed that the brothers realised that firing so many people had been a mistake.
"What's happened is a total U-turn," he said. "I think the decision to fire their own people in December was a frustrated, knee-jerk reaction from the Barclay brothers, but they're obviously readjusting their position and it seems to be that their investments are back on track."
Tensions do still exist, however. On Wednesday, the brothers lost a long-running court case in which they had demanded the return of a £200,000 donation to build a community hall. The Barclay brothers were opposed to the hall having a liquor license because they do not make charitable donations to commercial ventures and claimed that the hall's trustees had broken a stipulation on their donation. But Sark's Lieutenant Seneschal, Patrick Talbot QC, found the hall was not a pub and cleared the trustees.