Belfast Telegraph

Stormont squabbles 'caused my firm to collapse'

Budget 'in-fighting' also blamed for insolvency

By Yvette Shapiro

The owner of a well-known Belfast engineering company has blamed Stormont in-fighting over budgets for the collapse of his business.

Brian Hood - whose father Stewart founded mechanical and electrical contractor Sheridan and Hood almost 50 years ago - said the failure of his firm was "like losing a child".

And he claims that a sister company is facing closure after the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) announced that it's pulling financial support for renewable heat incentive schemes.

Sheridan and Hood, based in east Belfast, ceased trading last month, with the loss of 20 jobs. Managing director Brian Hood said that "political mismanagement" led to the company's demise.

"Our big clients were the health service and schools, where we installed heating systems, electrics, plumbing and other fit out works," said Mr Hood.

"When the Stormont nonsense began last year, with the parties wrangling over budgets and the subsequent budget cuts and uncertainty, we found that projects just dried up because people could not be assured of funding.

"In the eight to 10 weeks before we stopped trading, there were no tenders coming through. The politicians have a lot to answer for. Their mismanagement is putting people out of business.

"They can't sort budgets and their in-fighting is like children in a play-pen."

Mr Hood said that the company was struggling to cope financially after being caught up in a dispute over a major health service building project. Sheridan and Hood is owned £70,000 for sub-contract work.

"We're meeting with the health trust but the matter is not yet resolved. You could say that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

The company has debts of around £300,000 and Mr Hood said his family - along with the employees - are the biggest losers.

"We owe the banks nothing. Our family has lost around £250,000 that was invested in the company. It was a family decision in the end, it had to stop, we couldn't keep paying employees with no prospect of work coming in.

"The most saddening thing is that because of the legal implications we couldn't tell the staff in advance and some people feel very aggrieved. Two employees had been with us for over 30 years. There are guys in their late 50s who may not get another job.

"It's been extremely painful, devastating for the family. It's like losing a child. It's the only work I've ever known, I've worked here all my life. My father set up the company after coming out of the shipyard. But you have to live with it and get on with it."

Four employees have been offered jobs at Sheridan and Hood's sister company BS Holdings, which is also headed by Brian Hood. It manufactures plant rooms for biomass and gas-fired heating systems. It has installed heating plants at 12 Tesco stores in the Republic and at the supermarket's Craigavon store. Car dealer Charles Hurst is another major customer.

"We have installed 12 biomass plants for Charles Hurst, including two cooling plants, which are very innovative," said Mr Hood. "We also have a £1.25m contract with the Lookers car dealership in England."

However, Mr Hood is concerned about the future of BSH, which employs nine staff at its factory in Antrim, following an announcement from DETI that it is to close the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

The programme provides financial incentives to increase the uptake of renewable heat by giving subsidies for the installation of biomass systems, payable for 20 years.

"The fee that companies receive for installing renewable energy systems, like biomass, helps them to recover their overheads and makes the industry viable," said Mr Hood.

"If Stormont does away with the tariffs, then the renewables market here will come to an end. BSH will have to close because no-one will want to buy biomass plant.

"Stormont will be putting companies out of business because they can't decide an energy strategy," he added.

Belfast Telegraph