Shaun Lowthorpe, Business editor
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Workers at Uniglaze today revealed their shock at the demise of the glazing firm as yet more job losses were announced.
As the shock of the sudden closure of a factory which had been bustling just days ago sank in for Uniglaze staff, a closer look reveals this outcome may have been less of a surprise than it initially appeared.
It is the latest in a line of companies that has hit trouble in a struggling sector grappling with a prolonged recession.
Administrators identify the closure of Norfolk Frames, which went into administration in May and has since gone into liquidation, as a key factor in Uniglaze’s woes. Companies House documents show Norfolk Frames owed Uniglaze more than £200,000.
But it is not the first. It is understood that last year another customer underwent a pre-pack administration – where the assets and staff transfer to a new company without the debts – leaving Uniglaze £100,000 out of pocket.
Uniglaze accounts up to 2011 –which is as far as they go – do not make comfortable reading. Even in 2008 the company was making a pre-tax loss of almost £190,000. The company said in 2011 that sales had continued to fall and margins squeezed and in its year ends in 2010 and 2011 respectively it made £3.5m and £2.5m pre-tax losses.
Uniglaze eventually went to KPMG in April 2011 and negotiated a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with management and creditors working together to address the business’ financial problems.
Things appeared to be looking up. Just weeks ago the firm’s managing director Philip Davis said the business had taken on 18 extra production line workers to meet a major surge in orders.
But Uniglaze appears to be a business which has been teetering on the brink of collapse for too long. The loss of Norfolk Frames was a setback too many for the company which just seven years ago opened a multimillion pound factory.
Administrators KPMG yesterday confirmed 45 further redundancies bringing the total job losses to 270 after the firm went into administration on Monday.
That leaves a skeleton staff of 15 at the firm’s factory site in New Costessey with delivery drivers expected to be the last line of the workforce to be laid off.
The administrators were appointed just 18 months after the business, which makes and supplies toughened glass and double glazing, were on the verge of going into administration in April 2011. At the time, Uniglaze was able to broker a deal with creditors to secure 280 jobs. The company has a turnover of around £21m a year.
But the company has struggled for a number of years in the wake of the severe downturn that has hit the UK construction sector and wider economy, while its cashflow has been substantially hit by a further decline in turnover and the insolvency of a key customer.
And many workers now fear for their future after being laid off from their jobs as administrators systematically worked their way along the production line laying off staff.
Barry Clemitson, 49, a member of the dispatch team, said he was told at noon yesterday that he was being made redundant after 11 years with the firm.
“There’s been people here, who have been here for 20 odd years,” he said. “Everyone is gutted. We came here to this brand new factory and thought we had a great future. We have just had a really busy six weeks. None of us saw it coming. We came in on Monday and there were a few rumours and then we were told there was a big meeting for all of us in the staff canteen.
“The managing director gave a quick speech and then handed over to the administrators. It was pretty short. He said they’d tried really hard, but there were cash flow problems, and there was nothing more that they could do. They’d explored every option but they had to give up the fight.
“People were open mouthed and there were gasps around the room. They started at one end of the building and worked their way through starting with the glass shop. There are still drivers on the road who are doing the last deliveries. As far as I am aware from the administrators, Uniglaze will close.”
Adrian Aldridge, 47, who lives nearby in Wheeler Crescent in Easton, said he had worked for the firm for nearly seven years as a frame cutter.
“What they’ve been doing is gradually shutting the factory down,” he said. “They laid everybody off at the glass shop and worked their way down the production line. There were a couple of inklings that something was going on. We were getting deliveries coming, which were being turned back.
“It’s dropped a lot of people in it,” he added. “I was called in at 1.30pm on Tuesday and given a redundancy pack and that was it. I even had to go and find my own details in my file.
“I come from a construction background and have worked on building sites and done installation work, but I am now on the search for a job and I’ve got to try and claim back my wages for the work I’ve done in the last week.”
One worker, who didn’t want to be named, said he had been at the firm for 15 years and he was worried about how he was going to meet his monthly £600 mortgage bill.
“As far as I can see there was a lot of work there, but we were told that they had reached the end of the road,” he said. “I’m waiting for the redundancy money to come through, but the mortgage and bills have got to be paid and this is not the best time of year to be looking for work.
“I do worry. I’ve got a wife and three kids and when they heard their dad had been made redundant, the kids all started crying.”
Another employee with two young children, said: “Everyone on nights was told that they were going, but they asked us to carry on working and stay on until 2pm, but we didn’t get paid for the last two weeks’ wages. I stayed hoping that were going to keep me on. I feel really angry.”
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