A company run by the wife of a Preston councillor has been fined £3,500 after she supplied unlicensed staff to work for his firm.
Tina Walker pleaded guilty on behalf of UR Workforce Solutions to providing three workers for Preston Meats, run by her husband, Sharoe Green’s Conservative councillor, David Walker.
Preston Magistrates’ Court heard Mrs Walker ignored repeated warnings from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) that her company was trading illegally last year.
The court was told Mrs Walker’s business, based in East Cliff, Preston, continued to provide the workers to Preston Meats despite receiving five separate written warnings in May and June 2012.
It also heard the company was clearly aware it needed a GLA licence to supply labour for meat processing, as Mrs Walker’s previous company, Uplands Recruitment Agency Ltd, had provided the same service with a licence since June 2007.
UR Workforce Solutions was formed after the recruitment agency went into administration with sizeable tax debts.
The unlicensed replacement business was run from Mrs Walker’s home and began trading in January 2012.
Stephanie Varle, prosecuting, said when the business finally responded to the GLA on July 25, Mrs Walker admitted it had been trading unlawfully and was advised to apply for a licence immediately.
But no application was ever received and the company continued to supply Preston Meats, in Knoll Lane, Little Hoole, while Mrs Walker went on a six-week holiday to America.
Coun Walker, who is listed as a director of both companies on Preston Council’s Register of Interests, answered one of several phone calls from the GLA.
Ms Varle said: “He didn’t fully appreciate there was a problem with the license.”
She said no action had been taken against Coun Walker or Preston Meats.
Ms Varle said the company had knowingly chosen not to apply for a licence and profited significantly from unlawful trading.
She said between February and September 2012 it made £12,700 from the staff. The license costs £2,200.
She said: “This was something that went on for a number of months. It wasn’t a temporary oversight.
“The mitigating factor is there was no exploitation of the staff. To all intents and purposes it would appear the staff were treated very well by the company.”
Mrs Walker, who has no previous convictions, cried in court during the hearing. No evidence was offered on a charge against her personally.
Paul Margie, defending, said his client had forgotten to renew the licence when setting up the company and was not aware of the letters.
He said as soon as she realised she needed a license she had sent off a necessary form.
However, he said: “Unfortunately at this stage she goes to America for six weeks.
“She said she would sort it out when she got back from her holiday but unfortunately she has forgotten about it.”
In September the three workers became permanent staff at Preston Meats. UR Workforce Solutions is no longer working in this field.
When contacted by the Evening Post, Coun Walker declined to comment on the case.
He said: “I wouldn’t like to comment on it.
“I would prefer it if you didn’t run the story.”
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was formed in 2005, after the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, when at least 21 Chinese cockle pickers were drowned.
It was set up to protect workers supplied to the agricultural, horticultural and shellfish industries.
Coun Peter Rankin, Labour group leader, said: “The Gangmasters Licensing Authority is there for a reason, it’s there to protect workers from exploitation and worse.
“It’s reprehensible that the company didn’t pay its licensing fees.
“He’s not a member of my party, but if he were I would find it very embarrassing.”
Coun Ken Hudson, Conservative group leader, said he didn’t know the exact details of the case and company law was “a complex issue”.
He said: “From my point of view Coun Walker hasn’t done anything wrong in law personally.”