A MAJOR chain behind dozens of prominent south Essex venues has hit back at claims they could be forced to close as it re-finances its debt.

Yesterday, the GMB Union issued a warning that more than 750 Stonegate venues across the south east could be at risk as the firm re-finances its debts.

However, the firm is confident that no venues will close.

Stonegate owns Southend’s MooMoos Clubrooms and Popworld in the city centre as well as the popular Alex pub in Alexandra Street and The Broadway pub in Leigh.

The firm also manages the Woodcutters Arms, in Eastwood, Canvey’s Lobster Smack, the Beehive in Basildon, Wickford’s Quart Pot, and the popular Loft in Basildon, among many others.

Southend Tory cabinet member for economic development, Colin Campbell, has claimed that while losing the businesses would be great shame, in the event of collapse, he expects Southend’s most loved spots to come under new management.

“I have visited all these venues many times, I am a young man in Southend, and it would be a great shame to lose them,” he said.

“It is a shame to see how many people would be affected and how many are employed but I do have to credit the free market, businesses open and close and it does provide a nice opportunity.

“There are many independent places and there are chains that are thriving and already have staff, I just don’t see an apocalypse coming. There will always be demand.”

Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, accused the firm of “playing fast and loose with people’s jobs and lives”.

“When their risky ventures go wrong, they swan off to their next project, leaving workers and communities to pick up the pieces,” she added. “Now, hundreds of much loved pubs across the south east are now in serious danger of pulling their last pint. It’s a disgrace.”

A spokesperson for Stonegate, said: “We are really pleased with the performance of the business in 2023, which included a sector-leading Christmas trading period.

“We have delivered a rise in revenue and a significant increase in profitability. We have been very clear that we continue to work towards achieving our long-term balance sheet goals, with the successful refinancing of a portion of our estate in December marking a significant strategic step towards this. We would also like to assure our employees and partners that no venues are at risk as a result of this process.”