Building firm Pollard goes bust owing £15million

Investigations have begun after a South West construction went bust leaving hardly any cash to pay £15m in debts and a huge black hole in its pension fund. Liquidators sorting out the affairs of Henry W Pollard and Sons Ltd, which had been in business for 161 years before it went belly up in 2021, have sent a confidential report on the directors’ behaviour to the Government.

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William Telford www.devonlive.com

Furthermore, the liquidators, at South West accountancy and business consultancy Bishop Fleming LLP, revealed, in documents filed at Companies House, that they are also probing “alleged pension-related misrepresentations in the company’s financial statements.” The company’s pension scheme is owed £4,954,000.

The documents revealed the liquidators have recovered pension documents from the company’s books and records, and from relevant third parties but, as of July, were awaiting further information. Meanwhile they have sent a report to Whitehall, under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, and said: “We can confirm that we have submitted a report on the conduct of directors of the company to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. As this is a confidential report we are unable to disclose the contents.”

Pollard, which had worked across the region, ceased trading and entered creditors’ voluntary liquidation in July 2021 leaving buildings such as Plymouth’s £13m Teesra House apartment block in limbo. The business was headquartered in Bridgwater but had a key office in Plymouth, where it opened a base at Millbay’s Cargo building in 2015. Pollard had also been leasing three units at Queen Anne Place, Cattedown and documents reveal it owes cash to small firms throughout Devon and Cornwall.

The newly published joint liquidators’ annual progress report reveals that assets of nearly £1m have been collected so far and two freehold properties are on the market. One secured creditor, a bank, has been paid £400,000 from cash in the Pollard bank account, and claims from ordinary preferential creditors, 29 employees, have been dealt with. A claim from HM Revenue and Customs for £256,145 in taxes is being reviewed but it is expected this will be paid.

But it is estimated by the liquidators that there will be just £612,563 available for unsecured creditors, meaning they will get just 4p in the £1. If this turns out to be the case it means the pension fund, for example, would receive only £198,160 of the near £5m it is short.

Pollard’s statement of affairs indicated there were 265 unsecured creditors whose debts totalled about £8.7m. But liquidators have already received claims totalling about £15.25m from 196 creditors.

In the progress report the liquidators said: “The significant difference in value relates, principally to four claims totalling about £5m which pertain to live contracts and which had not been incorporated within the directors’ statement of affairs.”

Out of the unsecured creditors, trade creditors are claiming £4,482,999, employees want £182,368, Somerset District Council is owed £1,089,150, and contract counterclaims amount to £4,542,728. When the pension scheme deficit of £4,954,000 is added in it brings the total to 15,251,245.

The liquidators said it is not known how much cash they will be able to collect, and said: “The extent to which retentions and book debts are recoverable is entirely uncertain at this stage.” Future legal costs and fees are unknown at the moment too.

Other documents filed at Companies House have revealed that many of the unsecured claimants are small and mid-sized companies spread across the South West. Among the dozens of companies owed money are Plymouth firm XCAV8 (SW) Ltd, which is claiming £130,181; Bridgwater’s Blake Joinery Co, owed £221,950; Plymouth’s Beaumont Drylining Ltd, owed £97,595; another Plymouth firm, PCB Electrical Service, which is claiming £134,393; and DMH Interiors, in Weston Super Mare, which is £105,243 short.

The smallest claim is for £17 but most are for hundreds or thousands of pounds, and they come from companies in the aforementioned towns and cities and in Bristol, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Tavistock, Bath, Taunton, Saltash, Torpoint, St Austell and Swindon, among many places in the South West, and even from outside the region, including companies in Birmingham, Bolton, Coventry and Manchester.

Pollard had been involved in multi-million pound building projects throughout the West Country and was in profit before the coronavirus pandemic and had a healthy turnover, but the administration of an important client in 2019 left it £715,000 out of pocket.

Among projects Pollard worked on was Kingsditch Industrial Units in Cheltenham, and it was working on Weston Mews townhouses in Bath, Alexander House care home in Exeter, and the eight-storey Teesra House block, at Mount Wise in Plymouth, was close to completion but still covered in scaffolding at the time of the Pollard collapse.

Pollard directly employed about 50 people and its most recent results revealed turnover of £24m, up 20%, in 2020 and a profit of £170,888. That was before the Covid pandemic, although accounts released in January 2021 said the firm has been able to maintain work at all its sites and was tendering for £40m of contracts.

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