Belfast Telegraph

86 jobs lost as Northern Ireland family firm Blackbourne shuts doors after 61 years

Contractor says collapse of bigger firms contributed

John Armstrong, CEF
John Armstrong, CEF
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Nearly 90 jobs have been lost at a family-run contractor in Antrim after bosses said they had closed the business "with deep regret".

Blackbourne Ltd, which was founded in Antrim by Cedric Blackbourne, has been in business for 61 years.

But the company said it's now entered into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to pay off its debts, with all 86 staff being made redundant.

It stopped trading this month and has appointed business advisers Baker Tilly Mooney Moore to advise on the CVA process.

A spokesman said trading difficulties at two large contractors - understood to include collapsed UK giant Carillion - had led to cashflow problems for Blackbourne Ltd.

A spokesman for the company said trading conditions in construction and its own industry of mechanical and engineering contracting had been "extremely difficult" in recent years.

There had been cashflow problems following the collapse of big contractors, it said.

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"Over the past 18 months the company has been through a period of restricted cashflow due initially to two main contractors in England and Northern Ireland going into administration and the company receiving no recovery of the losses.

"The company then brought in £3.1m in order to cover losses and enable it to continue with other contracts, but the cash position worsened again due to a £20m project in London running on for a further year at a loss and hence causing further issues to the running of the business."

A spokesman for Baker Tilly Mooney Moore said it had been hired to help Blackbourne Limited with the proposal of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA). "The company has now ceased trading. We continue to work with the relevant stakeholders throughout this process."

A company report for Blackbourne Ltd for the year ending March 31, 2018 reported a loss before taxation of £3.9m.

The loss was despite growth in its revenue of just under £3.5m from £21.2m to £24.7m.

The strategic report filed with the accounts says that performance "was below expectations as a result of losses incurred, and future losses provided for, in respect of three major construction contractors".

It refers to the move by the company's shareholders and associates to make extra working capital of £3.2m available to the company. The directors said that they were confident that the company would return to profitability in the year ending March 2019.

Earlier this month, The Construction Employers Federation (CEF), led by chief executive John Armstrong, warned that the sector may already be in recession.

It said that over two-and-a-half years since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, construction firms felt a recession is likely, if not already happening.

The Blackbourne family is also well-known for its property development. Under Karl Group, members of the family are part of joint venture Bangor Marine which has won the tender for the redevelopment of Queen's Parade in Bangor. But the property development arm is not affected. Karl Group also developed the Obel Tower in Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph