Businesses back ailing Haymills

SUFFOLK businesses and senior councillors have given their backing to ailing construction firm Haymills, which could be forced into administration today.

Elliot Furniss

SUFFOLK businesses and senior councillors have given their backing to ailing construction firm Haymills, which could be forced into administration today.

The 98-year-old firm is based in Stowmarket and has worked on some of the region's most prestigious building projects in recent years but last week its overdraft was frozen by the Royal Bank of Scotland and hundreds of workers and sub-contractors have not been paid.

Now industry leaders and the head of Mid Suffolk District Council have voiced their support for the company and questioned why RBS acted in such a way.

Celia Hodson, chief executive of Choose Suffolk, said she hoped all parties could work together to resolve the problem and reach a financial solution.

She said: “Haymills is an important local employer with a long history and, like many businesses in the region, during challenging economic periods needs the support and understanding of its bank.

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“We have all witnessed the recent turbulence in the banking sector which, with the support of public money, has been given help to weather the financial storms.

“It is now time for that same sector to work towards putting in place strategies that help their business customers.”

Tim Passmore, leader of the district council, said it would try to help the company, which employs 300 people in Suffolk, to survive.

He said: “Ever since I was a boy I have known the name Haymills in the area and I do understand the seriousness of the situation, I hope they can find a solution but whether that will happen in time, I don't know.

“The short-sighted approach from the Government and financial institutions has got to be resolved.

“We don't want to see anybody losing their jobs at all. We are doing whatever possible to help the construction industry - we're trying to get the planning process speeded up so developments can go ahead without any delays.

“But the Government needs to open up credit lines. Tax payers have given the money to the banks and it's about time they gave some back.”

He also said progress on plans to build the vast SnOasis complex would offer a timely boost to the local construction industry but the project was currently being delayed.

Shaun Bailey, chief executive of leading Suffolk marketing firm Jacob Bailey Limited, said local businesses should work collectively to ensure similar situations do not arise again.

He said: “If, as it has been reported by the East Anglian Daily Times, Haymills has been operating their business within the financial and conditional parameters set out for their overdraft by RBS, then I find it difficult to grasp that a bank which was bailed out by taxpayer's money is essentially pulling the rug from beneath an established Suffolk business by moving the goalposts.

“What is so infuriating is that the people who will suffer if Haymills faces administration are the very people whose taxes contributed to the emergency capital injection that saved RBS from a similar fate.”

He said that in the worst case scenario, social impact on local communities would be “devastating”.

Mr Bailey added: “If there's anything businesses in Suffolk can do collectively to help fellow enterprises by making banks think twice before taking such action, then maybe we should think about doing it.

“From being in discussion with other businesses in the area, it's evident that I'm not alone in this sentiment.”

Last night a Haymills spokesman said the situation had not altered since earlier in the week and discussions for a way forward were still ongoing.

He said: “It looks like a decision won't be happening until early next week. Negotiations are ongoing with a number of parties.

“The March 2009 accounts are still being audited and depending on how we fare next week they will either be published in due course or they won't ever be published.

“We had gone to the bank for advice and some assistance and followed the arrangements and rules we had discussed previously.

“Many companies like us are feeling the pinch, large or small, but messages of support have come in and more people have been on the phone.”

He declined to comment on industry reports that the company was about to be taken over by French construction giant Bouygues.

A spokesman for RBS said that due to strict rules governing customer confidentiality, they were unable to comment on the case.

She said: “Our lending criteria remains unchanged and each lending case is viewed on its own merit and a detailed assessment is made on the viability of each business proposition to ensure that companies taking on debt have the ability to repay.

“We are determined to support customers that need our help, but this has to be on a viable commercial basis.”