Northwood has no assets to sell off for staff payouts

This Is Wiltshire: MP Justin Tomlinson on an earlier visit to Northwood MP Justin Tomlinson on an earlier visit to Northwood

APPRENTICES dumped by a recycling firm received further blows yesterday when it emerged the company is in such a dire state administrators have refused to take it on.

It also emerged yesterday that Northwood’s Birmingham-based NVQ training provider, Skillsfinder UK, has also gone into administration.

Northwood Environmental closed last week with its owner James Jennings saying he was seeking to place it into liquidation to trigger payouts for 65 trainees and workers. But the stricken firm, set up to reduce youth unemployment in Swindon, did not own a single piece of equipment or property, having relied on lease deals with other firms. Troubleshooters approached by Northwood refused to step in as there were no assets to be salvaged, meaning the process to claim redundancy payouts could not be initiated.

However Mr Jennings claimed yesterday that he was in talks with another administrator who was set to take on the enterprise in the Hawksworth Trading Estate.

The Skillsfinder news is also another massive blow to workers. Mr Jennings had claimed the firm owed his company £215,000. But this was denied by Skillsfinder, which said it was in dispute over a much smaller amount which was unrelated to staffing costs. The Adver can also reveal that Chris Martin, the training provider’s quality and development manager, had been a director in another company, Luis Michael Training, which is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Skillsfinder’s closure will be felt across the country as it was a subcontractor for REMIT, another training provider, and Tribal Group, which provides education services.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson said: “Almost daily the mystery of this sudden business collapse looks ever more murky and suspicious and every effort must be made to find out whether foul play was involved and, if it was, the full force of the law should be deployed.

“The one thing that’s clear is that the 65 staff caught in the middle are certainly not to blame and, if it was anything other than a genuine business failure, then that is totally and utterly unacceptable.”

Sarah Leyfield and her 17-year-old son Sam received the news of Skillsfinder’s closure by email yesterday. Mrs Leyfield, 46, from Royal Wootton Bassett, said: “What has happened to the company is catastrophic. The situation has gone from bad to worse.

“Our son had overcome his troubles and turned his life around, but now there is not even anyone to approach for what he is owed.”

Sam, who worked for free despite being owed £500 in wages, said: “I haven’t got any money and I can’t afford to run my car, pay rent, buy food or pay my own way. It’s such a let-down and I feel depressed waking up in the morning knowing I’ve got nothing to go to.”

The announcement was made by Tribal Group, one of the biggest education support services in the UK, which said it was looking for new organisations to continue the training and assessment provided by Skillsfinder.

It read: “We (Tribal Education) are now working to support you in securing a new apprenticeship placement or other employment, and wherever possible to make sure you are given the opportunity to successfully complete the apprenticeship you have started.

“We have already begun looking for organisations in your area which may be able to support us in this and will contact you with more details in the near future.”

Chris Martin held a directorship with Luis Michael Training, according to documents at Companies House. That company is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over an alleged £1.6m plot to defraud the Government’s Skills Funding Agency. Three men, not including the 48-year-old businessman, were arrested in May.

A spokeswoman for the SFO said no charges had been brought and the investigation was continuing. Mr Jennings claimed he only became aware of Mr Martin’s connections to Luis Michael Training, which provided football-based apprenticeships, at the end of last month. He said: “When we checked the organisation it was totally clean.

“When we checked out the director Neil Harrup there were no issues. It was only pointed out to us recently that there were issues. “We had no reason to believe it wasn’t valid. We suspended them at the beginning of September because we were concerned about the quality and the debt built up.”

Mr Jennings, 36, said an approach to one administrator to take on Northwood had been unsuccessful and he was in talks with another which would allow RP1 forms to be sent to workers, allowing them to make redundancy claims.

He said: “The first one we had didn’t believe they would be able to draw their fee from assets. I am in a meeting with another who believe they can take it forward.”

He has blamed the company’s collapse mainly on a £215,000 debt he claims is owed by Skillsfinder, which combined with other factors.

Mr Martin refuted this allegation before Skillsfinder went into administration. He did not reply to a request for comment yesterday.

The Government’s Skills Funding Agency distanced itself from Skillsfinder in a statement.

It said: “The agency does not hold a direct contractual relationship with Skillsfinder. The company is a subcontractor of REMIT and Tribal Education, which the agency holds direct contracts with.

“We have a duty to ensure learner interests are being protected and are working with REMIT and Tribal Education to ensure all learners affected by the closure of Skillsfinder are being supported in every way possible and are able to continue with their learning.”

TANGLED WEB OF CLAIMS

SKILLSFINDER UK had been involved in a tangled web of claims and counter-claims with Northwood owner James Jennings before the administrators moved in last week.

Mr Jennings has alleged he waited in vain for a promised money transfer from the skills provider to pay wages for staff until the end of the day on Friday, September 28.

Northwood closed on the Monday with staff being told on the spot they no longer had jobs.

Mr Jennings, who formerly worked as a project manager for Government employability schemes, said his company was owed £215,000 overall.

He claimed the problems started with an unexpected underpayment on May 31, which he had believed to be a short-term problem.

However Chris Martin, Skillsfinder’s head of quality and development, said his company had only covered room hire, heating and other associated costs which were unrelated to staffing.

He said: “James Jennings’ issues around money are nothing to do with us. Our position is we are the training provider. We are trying to look at alternatives for the apprentices. We are talking to another large organisation in the area to take the apprentices.”

A total of 150 Northwood Environmental workers and apprentices across the country have been made redundant.

Comments (9)

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8:39am Tue 9 Oct 12

RichardR1 says...

A dangerous consequence of tax payers money being liberally handed out to companies with no track record.

The explosion in so called 'training providers' has been huge, mainly bankrolled by us the tax and rate payers.

Non jobs are just that in the end created to massage the figures, the colour of the Government is immaterial, they have both done it.
A dangerous consequence of tax payers money being liberally handed out to companies with no track record. The explosion in so called 'training providers' has been huge, mainly bankrolled by us the tax and rate payers. Non jobs are just that in the end created to massage the figures, the colour of the Government is immaterial, they have both done it. RichardR1
  • Score: 0

11:12am Tue 9 Oct 12

The Real Librarian says...

I'm with Justin.

This looks odd to say the least. There should be a review of the books to check that everything has been honestly managed.

If it turns out that it was all above board then Mr Jennings will be able to hold his head up high. If not, then action can be taken.
I'm with Justin. This looks odd to say the least. There should be a review of the books to check that everything has been honestly managed. If it turns out that it was all above board then Mr Jennings will be able to hold his head up high. If not, then action can be taken. The Real Librarian
  • Score: 0

11:49am Tue 9 Oct 12

joejoea says...

I worked for northwood from may till 2 days before they told staff it was to close. I knew from the start the company wasnt being run right. Wages were always late or if they were on time they were always short. Mr jennings and all management should be looked into. Shouting and swearing at staff shouldnt happen but it happened there.

Me and other members of staff knew it wouldnt be here by christmas and we were right
I worked for northwood from may till 2 days before they told staff it was to close. I knew from the start the company wasnt being run right. Wages were always late or if they were on time they were always short. Mr jennings and all management should be looked into. Shouting and swearing at staff shouldnt happen but it happened there. Me and other members of staff knew it wouldnt be here by christmas and we were right joejoea
  • Score: 0

12:01pm Tue 9 Oct 12

jnevill says...

Sadly, the comments here are indicative of the treatment received by the victims of Mr Martin's other company, Luis Michael Training. For that story check out http://dagenhamdustb
in.blogspot.de/2011/
02/luis-michael-trai
ning.html
Sadly, the comments here are indicative of the treatment received by the victims of Mr Martin's other company, Luis Michael Training. For that story check out http://dagenhamdustb in.blogspot.de/2011/ 02/luis-michael-trai ning.html jnevill
  • Score: 0

12:13pm Tue 9 Oct 12

thefox60 says...

My 18 year old Son worked for Northwood very briefly & it quickly became apparent that all wasn't what it should be & he left. He was told to go there for a job by Jobseekers, so we reported back to them that something was badly wrong & they should reconsider before sending any other youngsters there. That was back in June.
My 18 year old Son worked for Northwood very briefly & it quickly became apparent that all wasn't what it should be & he left. He was told to go there for a job by Jobseekers, so we reported back to them that something was badly wrong & they should reconsider before sending any other youngsters there. That was back in June. thefox60
  • Score: 0

2:01pm Tue 9 Oct 12

neiluk says...

Would like to know when my brother is going to get paid? His first job was at Northwood and there has been a lot of dodgy things going on at this company.... He is owed 2 months wages now, with no clear indication on when he will be paid what he is owed, with serious worries about not being able to pay rent.

I hope this is sorted out asap.
Would like to know when my brother is going to get paid? His first job was at Northwood and there has been a lot of dodgy things going on at this company.... He is owed 2 months wages now, with no clear indication on when he will be paid what he is owed, with serious worries about not being able to pay rent. I hope this is sorted out asap. neiluk
  • Score: 0

10:49am Thu 11 Oct 12

anonym says...

As an outsider who has been in contact with employees and management from northwood swindon, i think it is only fair to point out that EVERYONE in swindon was left in the same boat, without pay, yet the management team continued to work knowign they would not be paid to offer support and to try and come up with ways to be able to get more money in to meet wages, without any support from Mr.Jennings. And the comment and allegations to suggest that they all should be looked into is out of order, and a clear sign of an understandably disgruntled ex-employee, but perhaps that person should look at why they lost their job before the redundancy day, people don't generally get fired for no reason.
As an outsider who has been in contact with employees and management from northwood swindon, i think it is only fair to point out that EVERYONE in swindon was left in the same boat, without pay, yet the management team continued to work knowign they would not be paid to offer support and to try and come up with ways to be able to get more money in to meet wages, without any support from Mr.Jennings. And the comment and allegations to suggest that they all should be looked into is out of order, and a clear sign of an understandably disgruntled ex-employee, but perhaps that person should look at why they lost their job before the redundancy day, people don't generally get fired for no reason. anonym
  • Score: 0

1:17pm Thu 11 Oct 12

jnevill says...

@anonym with all due respect the victims of Luis Michael Training were also told "we're doing our best for you etc etc" before the Serious Fraud Office made their arrests. Of course there are genuine people involved who will do their best but the decency of a few should not preclude a thorough investigation if there is any indication of wrongdoing.
@anonym with all due respect the victims of Luis Michael Training were also told "we're doing our best for you etc etc" before the Serious Fraud Office made their arrests. Of course there are genuine people involved who will do their best but the decency of a few should not preclude a thorough investigation if there is any indication of wrongdoing. jnevill
  • Score: 0

5:32pm Thu 11 Oct 12

anonym says...

@jnevill, I completely agree with you and i am all for James Jennings being thoroughly investigated, as Justin Tomlinson stated it looks ever more murky and suspicious the more you delve into it. But the management team in Swindon were very much left to bear the brunt of Mr Jennings ongoing lies and failure of payment to staff (also unpaid themselves), continuing to try and prevent the inevitable situation, with no support,funds, often being given less information from Jennings than certain employees were, and played absolutely no part in the high level dealings that led to people not being paid and redundancies. All i'm saying is the right people should be held accountable, it is far too easy to use innocent people as scapegoats.
@jnevill, I completely agree with you and i am all for James Jennings being thoroughly investigated, as Justin Tomlinson stated it looks ever more murky and suspicious the more you delve into it. But the management team in Swindon were very much left to bear the brunt of Mr Jennings ongoing lies and failure of payment to staff (also unpaid themselves), continuing to try and prevent the inevitable situation, with no support,funds, often being given less information from Jennings than certain employees were, and played absolutely no part in the high level dealings that led to people not being paid and redundancies. All i'm saying is the right people should be held accountable, it is far too easy to use innocent people as scapegoats. anonym
  • Score: 0

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