THE man in charge of a recycling firm that has gone into administration claims he has been unable to pay his workers’ wages because he is owed £215,000.
All 65 workers and apprentices at the Swindon site of Northwood Environmental were handed redundancy letters yesterday and were told they would be able to claim their wages through administrators.
The business was set up to reduce youth unemployment by giving apprentices work such as breaking down used windows and separating uPVC, metal and glass for recycling purposes, in an aim to gain a manufacturing qualification.
James Jennings, managing director of Northwood Environmental, says he is owed the cash by training provider Skillsfinder UK for supporting their staff so they can gain qualifications.
But mystery surrounds the financial situation between the two companies – because when Skillsfinder was approached by the Adver it denied owing any money to Northwood.
Mr Jennings, who addressed employees yesterday and gave them their letters, said: “We have to close the company down because the quicker we close the company down we can at least get the guys paid. That will be by the administrator closing the outstanding debts. “There is a scheme that allows people to claim for outstanding wages but we can only do that when we have gone into insolvency.
“I am mortified that we have been forced to put these guys in this situation. This is exactly the opposite to what we are trying to set up. The whole thing was to try and give people a start and to say to people ‘maybe you have been overlooked by other employers but let’s get you a qualification’.
“I am hugely aware of the anger that is outside. If there was anything we could do we would have done it. These kids deserve a chance and we thought we could give them that.”
The enterprise, set up for young people out of work, training or education, failed to pay staff on Friday, with some having gone two months without wages.
Mr Jennings, who formerly worked as a project manager for government employability schemes, says he invested £30,000 of his own money into the business when it started and has since breached his overdraft limit.
“We acted as properly as we possibly could in this situation,” he said. Mr Jennings, who admitted there had been cash-flow problems since the business opened its Swindon site in May, said the venture was expected to make money through cash from Skillsfinder and money from selling on the materials stripped from the windows.
“I spent most of the last four months chasing cash-flow and coping with money but I should have focused more highly on the commercial angle,” he said. “We expanded too aggressively and didn’t give ourselves the buffer. Everything was going well until May.”
He says Northwood owes a total of £80,000 to their 125 workers and apprentices across the country.
But Chris Martin, head of quality at Skillsfinder, which has between 40 and 50 apprentices at the Swindon site, denied owing money to Northwood.
“James Jennings’ issues around money are nothing to do with us,” he said. “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.”
But Mr Jennings maintained his claim over the cash.
A total of 150 Northwood Environmental workers and apprentices across the country have been made redundant.
North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson said: “What seemed a viable business has come so quickly to an end and working with the Swindon Advertiser we are trying to find out exactly what has gone on.
“Mr Jennings is blaming Skillsfinder and Skillsfinder is denying it. He wasn’t in a good way. He looked like someone who was overwhelmed by everything.
“He gave us the distinct impression that the money from Skillsfinder was needed for staff costs.”