Hatts Travel closure: Last stop for historic bus firm
6:30am Friday 1st August 2014 in By Julie Armstrong, Senior reporter
Axed Hatts Travel staff are bussed away from firm’s Foxham headquarters last Friday. Picture by Diane Vose
Staff at Hatts Travel have spoken of their shock that the 86-year-old family coach firm has crashed, with the loss of 89 jobs.
They said they had no idea that closure was in the offing for Hatts, which had been run by four generations of the Hillier family.
Drivers and other staff were summoned to the company’s headquarters at Foxham last Friday. They left looking forlorn after learning they had been made redundant, many departing in their own empty buses which read ‘out of service’.
One man, who said he was one of the company’s most senior drivers, stopped to say how emotional he was to leave after so many years.
A 72-year-old who followed said he and his colleagues had not been given any warning the business was going under.
The man, who said he had worked there about eight years, said: “There was no warning. It’s just one of those things that happen in life.”
Hatts also traded as Bodmans Coaches and Wiltshire Buses and had offices in Worton near Devizes and Salisbury.
Joint administrators Andrew Sheridan and Gareth Morris, partners at FRP Advisory, said: “The businesses simply ran out of cash.
"The group had been struggling with unsustainable cash-flow pressures for several months and attempts by its owners and directors to obtain investment to safeguard a long-term future for the businesses as going concerns failed to materialise, leaving them with no alternative but to place the group into administration.
“We will be ensuring that the 89 employees who have lost their jobs are provided with the necessary support to make timely claims from the Redundancy Payments Service for any entitlements they have for unpaid wages, holiday pay, notice pay and redundancy.”
A source claimed some of the drivers at Hatts Travel are owned money, saying: “Last October when they went to the bank to take their money out their wages were short.
"When they phoned up Hatts they were told there was a problem with the payroll and they would be paid half their wages and be owed the other half.”
He said drivers had told him that the yards at Foxham, Worton and Salisbury had run out of fuel a couple of weeks ago.
He said: “Adrian Hillier expanded Hatts far too fast in the past four or five years, taking over Bodmans Coaches and Stones of Bath when that went into administration and another coach company in Chippenham.”
Hatts is understood to have taken delivery of a £500,000 luxury coach within the last couple of weeks, yet a Wiltshire school party found the air-conditioning on their coach kept failing when temperatures rose during a trip to the continent.
A teacher, who did not want to be named, said: “Every time the temperature went over a certain level the air-conditioning would pack up which is, of course, exactly when you need it.”
Hatts, which has a fleet of about 90 buses and coaches, served Sheldon and Hardenhuish schools in Chippenham, John Bentley School in Calne, Malmesbury and Corsham schools, independent school Dauntsey’s, Lackham College and some Marlborough routes.
It avoided a major headache for parents by keeping buses on the road until the summer holidays began.
Hatts was also the coach operator for Bath Rugby. Chippenham Town Football Club used Hatts for the last two seasons.
Managing director Neil Blackmore said: “We used them because they offered the best price. It just means they won’t be on the tender list this year, which is unfortunate because they gave us a very good service.”
Since 1995 Hatts has provided Chippenham Twinning Association with transport to La Fleche and Friedberg.
Chippenham Mayor John Scragg, president of the association, said: “They will be missed for their reliable, friendly service, always willing to provide what we needed.”
A trip with 49 travellers scheduled to depart for the Isle of Man last Thursday, July 24, was cancelled.
The administrators will operate the Pewsey Vale Connect 2 bus service and Salisbury’s park and ride while another operator is secured, safeguarding 32 jobs.
Marlborough town and unitary councillor Nick Fogg said: “A small group of people I know came down for a meeting with me on Saturday.
“They arrived at Bedwyn and there was no bus and there should have been one and it didn’t arrive at all.
“I think we need to be very conscious of this and obviously the community transport groups should look very carefully into this because there is a vacuum at the moment in bus services.”