Patisserie Valerie has questions to answer

Patisserie Valerie cakes Image copyright Getty Images

The news that Patisserie Valerie - a business worth £440m on Monday - is no longer a going concern without a capital injection is absolutely jaw-dropping.

Once composure is re-gathered, the questions come thick and fast.

Question 1. Will the company's biggest shareholder - serial entrepreneur and well-known smart cookie Luke Johnson - feel inclined to put his hand in his pocket to keep the business going?

The answer to that question may depend on the answer to...

Question 2. How quickly did the cash black hole open up?

Did it happen over the last three years, the last year, the last three months?

Cash black holes generally open up when the finance department loses control of the process of reconciling the cash in the bank to the accounts. If it built up quickly, it means the business is haemorrhaging cash and would make investors nervous of putting in any more money.

Question 3. What was the finance director doing?

Chris Marsh has worked with Luke Johnson for well over a decade. Current and former associates of his tell me he is a "quiet guy", "not ostentatious - no gold watch or fast car", "definitely Luke's man". He has been suspended while forensic accountants try to figure what happened here.

Question 4. Why didn't the auditors, Grant Thornton, raise the alarm?

They signed off on accounts dated September 2017, declaring the financial statements were in agreement with the accounting records. This will be a specific concern for Grant Thornton and another question mark raised over the quality of the whole accountancy profession after high-profile busts from the blue like Carillion.

The stores stay open for now. But with no cash, that cannot last, as suppliers will simply stop delivering. The future of the company, its 206 stores and its 2,000 employees is very much in the balance.

More on this story