Payment rows topple Swift Horsman and cost 220 jobs

Aaron Morby 11 years ago

Delayed and disputed payments on contracts were a chief cause for the collapse of fit-out specialist Swift Horsman.

Problems with getting paid cost all 220 staff jobs at the £40m turnover Hertfordshire joinery and fit-out contractor this week.

The collapse of one of the industry’s “life blood firms” has fuelled rage among specialists about resurgent main contractor payment abuse as the downturn deepens.

Yesterday administrator PwC confirmed all the firm’s staff had been laid off and it would now attempt to find buyers for any assets at the group’s six companies.

Karen Dukes, joint administrator and partner at PwC, said: “The company has suffered as a result of cost overruns on recent projects, impacted by the difficulties in the construction sector.

“The directors have been attempting to sell the business, but no buyer could be confirmed and they had no option but to place the company into administration.

“Unfortunately, we have had to make all the employees redundant immediately and will now be seeking a sale of the business and assets.”

Suzannah Nichol, chief executive of the National Specialist Contractors’ Council, said: “I am sure all the details will come out in time but I do know that payment issues contributed to the position that Swift found itself in.

“Swift Horsman’s collapse is a tragic consequence of both the trading environment but also an industry that just does not value the supply chain that is actually the employer, trainer and provider of the majority of workers and workmanship on any construction project.

She added: “Seeing a firm that delivered to the highest standard go under, and just before Christmas, is incredibly sad.

“I have good friends at Swift and within other specialist contractors many of whom are suffering at the moment – and there has to be a better way for this huge industry to do business that means everyone can deliver their best and be treated fairly.”

Established 41 years ago, Swift Horsman directly employed its workforce, ran a training business and manufacturing base in Scotland. It gained awards and plaudits for taking on apprentices and adopted recommended best practices such as offsite manufacture.

The specialist firm earned a place as preferred subcontractor for many major contractors and developers, and worked on high-profile projects like the Shard, Olympic Village and Heathrow Airport.

David Frise, chief executive of the Association of Interior Specialists, said: “We are now seeing well established, well run companies going to the wall.

“The economic climate is clearly a massive factor but so is getting paid.

He said: “Payment practices in the industry are rarely illegal but often immoral.  Chasing money destroys value, restricts growth and ultimately costs jobs.”

Growing rage at ad hoc main contractor payment strategies was best illustrated by the boss of glazing specialist Dortech.

Director Steve Sutherland sacrificed £5m of turnover and a 13-year long relationship with Balfour Beatty because of their record of payments for completed work.

His story of vowing never to work with them again was greeted by a huge outpouring of support and concern about industry payment practices, which are now gaining attention in the national press.

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