Garden centre won't pay staff who stay home amid coronavirus

Garden centre boss refusing to close despite coronavirus says he won’t pay staff who stay home and threatens he won’t ‘guarantee’ them work in future

  • EXCLUSIVE: Tony Joyner, of Plants Galore in Exeter, ‘ripped up’ order to shut
  • His three garden centres in the south-west were today welcoming customers 
  • Mr Joyner said in an email in March that he would not pay absent staff

A garden centre boss refusing to close despite the threat of fines said he would not pay any staff who followed government advice to stay at home as he warned he could not ‘guarantee’ them work in the future.

Tony Joyner, who runs Plants Galore in Exeter, ‘ripped up’ a prohibition order issued Exeter City Council after falling foul of new Government public health restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic.

Today, it emerged Mr Joyner had told staff in an email dated March 24 that he would not pay them if they decided to stay at home and would not be taking part in the government’s furlough scheme.  

He told employees they would be needed to work in the company’s warehouse and to water and maintain his £1million stock of plants so they are ready for sale after the government lockdown is lifted.

Mr Joyner later told MailOnline he had not had a chance to read through the full details of the furlough scheme when he sent the original email, and would offer it to some staff. He said he could not predict how many staff he could keep on after the lockdown.

Another 569 coronavirus deaths were declared in the UK today, taking the total death toll to 2,921. 

Tony Joyner, (left) who runs Plants Galore in Exeter, (where a customer is pictured today on the right) is staying open for business despite being told to close by the local council 

A customer shopping at Plants Galore in Exeter, which remains open despite a council order to shut amid the coronavirus pandemic 

Yesterday, Mr Joyner declared he would be ignoring Exeter City Council’s demand to close because he sold goods categorised by the government as ‘essential’, including hardware and pet food.

He complained that a nearby Aldi supermarket and B&Q that stocked similar goods had been allowed to open. The entrepreneur said they were also still selling flowers and could not afford to lose his spring stock.

Why is the local B&Q allowed to stay open despite selling a similar range of products?

Stores that sell products the government deems ‘essential’ are allowed to remain open. Hardware is considered essential, meaning B&Q can continue to welcome customers. 

There is no list of non-essential’ products shops that remain open are not allowed to sell, so the chain can continue to stock anything it wants, including flowers.  

Mr Joyner insists that because he also sells hardware he should be allowed to remain open. His store also stocks pet food, another essential product. 

However, Exeter City Council insists these products are only a sideline and his main business – selling plants – is non-essential. 


‘We are a hardware store, that’s the definition of our business,’ he said. ‘We sell home and garden tools and accessories in our store, just like B&Q and the supermarkets who are allowed to stay open.

‘The Government have said if you are able to open – which we are – you can sell anything you usually stock.

‘We are absolutely open and ready for business. We have a completely safe shopping experience with all the necessary safety protocols in place. It is safer shopping here where everything is open than it is in some small off licence.’

Customers were today seen browsing Mr Joyner’s three stores wearing face masks, leading to a warning from council officials that they could be fined if they are caught buying any ‘non-essential’ items.

Officials insist the business is first and foremost a garden centre and say they will bring in the police if their order is not complied with.

‘The Council does not accept that Plants Galore is a hardware store as claimed by the owner.

‘By remaining open Plants Galore is encouraging non-essential travel and customers should be made aware that they may be issued with a fixed penalty by the police if they are found to only be purchasing items that are not essential.

‘We shall take all appropriate action to ensure that the notice is complied with, acting consistently with colleagues in Exeter and Plymouth, Trading Standards and the Police.’

Today, it emerged Mr Joyner had told staff he will not pay them if they decide to stay at home (pictured: a customer shopping at the store today) 

The entrance to Plants Galore garden centre in Exeter, where cars were seen arriving and leaving today despite the government lockdown 

Unlike many garden centres, Plants Galore – which has three stores in Exeter, Newton Abbot and Plymoth – grows its own bedding plants at a network of nurseries. 

The company faces financial crisis if forced to throw away its current stock, valued at £1million. At this time of year the company would expect to take in £200,000 a week.

Mr Joyner said that due to the small size of his delivery fleet the most he can deliver to customers is £10,000 a week. He said he could furlough his staff on 80% wages paid by the government but would still suffer hefty losses

Mr Joyner has criticised both the police and local councillors, saying they don’t understand the rules and were ‘all over the place’.

‘We’ve had so many police here today, you’d think we were drug dealers – we’re trying to sell plants,’ he said.

‘We had police in the Exeter branch this morning asking if we are allowed to be open, which we are.

‘Why can’t we just shop safely? We don’t need this close down the way it’s being handled.’

Staff at Plants Galore have been told they must continue to come in for work otherwise they will not be paid 

The company faces financial crisis if forced to throw away its current stock, valued at £1million. At this time of year the company would expect to take in £200,000 a week

Plants Galore became the first business in Devon to fall foul of new Government public health restrictions when it was served with a prohibition notice on Friday, March 27.

Exeter City Council said it had committed an offence under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations 2020 by selling flowers and seeds.

While restrictions allow certain types of essential shop to remain open, Plants Galore, as a nursery, is not one of them, despite also selling a range of hardware goods and pet food.

Mr Joyner said the order would cost his business more than £1 million and lead to the job losses.

He has also said the ‘unfair’ order could lead him to launch legal action.

‘It cannot be fair that we are prohibited from selling these products while the local authority continue to allow other retailers to sell identical products on our doorstep,’ he said.

‘We are desperately trying to avoid the business going bankrupt and having to lay off 70 employees.

‘It seems to be one rule for supermarkets and other large national chain stores and one rule for Plants Galore – no consistency or fairness being applied.’

A customer wearing a face mask browses seasonal flowers at the store’s Exeter branch yesterday  

Supermarkets have reported 22 per cent up on sales – they will make massive profits this year and other businesses will go bankrupt – there has to be a better way to manage this situation.

‘At our Exeter store we are just 300 yards from Aldi supermarket where 30 trolleys of garden plants are selling in their car park,’ Mr Joyner said.

‘It cannot be fair that we are prohibited from selling these products while the local authority continue to allow other retailers to sell identical products on our doorstep.

‘We cannot understand why we are alone in receiving a prohibition notice while the council simply ignores other retailers.’

Exeter City Council said: ‘The government have introduced these measures for a reason – to save people’s lives. We understand the financial reality but would urge businesses and customers to adhere to Government legislation and help save those lives.’

MailOnline has contacted Mr Joyner for comment about his plans for employees.  

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