MP calls on Chancellor to intervene over furlough wage delays at Preston caravan firm

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been urged to intervene after workers at Preston caravan makers Lunar claimed their furlough wages are not being paid on time.

Monday, 28th September 2020, 3:45 pm
Inside the Preston factory which has stood idle for months.

Staff at the troubled company say they fear for their futures once the Government’s job retention scheme comes to an end next month.

Some say they have had to resort to foodbanks or loan sharks to make ends meet.

Lunar Caravans was only rescued from administration last year by South African businessman Nicholas Marks. It changed its name to Lunar Automotive and moved from its base in Lostock Hall to the former GEC building in Strand Road, Preston.

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Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick has called on the Chancellor to intervene.

Members of the 39-strong workforce claim they have had “12 months of turmoil,” culminating in a prolonged closure due to Covid-19.

Now they are worried the company will fold when furlough ends on October 31, throwing them onto the jobs scrapheap at a time when wholesale redundancies are predicted nationally.

“We are just left in limbo not knowing what is happening,” said production worker Jason Kilshaw. “We never get our furlough money on time and we don’t know when our next pay packet will come.

"We don’t know what has happened to our pension contributions since the firm was taken over. We’re worried.”

Lunar Automotive moved to the former GEC factory on Strand Road earlier this year.

The staff have called in ACAS, their union Unite and Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick to help resolve the situation. Sir Mark has written to HMRC and has now asked the Chancellor to investigate the situation at Lunar.

“I’m awaiting a response from the Chancellor,” he said. “There has been a flurry of correspondence between myself, HMRC and the staff at Lunar. I have also tried to contact the company owner, but so far he has not responded.”

In his letter to Rishi Sunak, Sir Mark wrote: “This company has been negligent in paying staff wages for a number of months whilst claiming furlough payments for 39 employees.

"This situation is continuing to cause considerable undue distress to the employees concerned and their families.

"I would be very grateful therefore if you investigate this case and escalate an appropriate level of action to ensure that employees receive their payments without any further delay."

The factory’s Unite rep Ian Roe said: "The company has been withholding payments of furlough wages, they are constantly a good month behind.

"Some of our members have had to use foodbanks or visit loan sharks to feed their families and pay their bills.

“The firm has been deducting pensions contributions, but as far as we can tell the pension fund Aviva has not received them since January.

“We have tried to get in contact with the owner, but he hasn’t responded. Our fear is that once the furlough scheme comes to an end we will all get laid off. It's very worrying."

Lunar has been a popular caravan brand in Britain since it was founded in 1969. But the company ran into trouble in 2019 - its golden jubilee year. It went into administration after suffering “severe cash flow issues.”

More than 120 short-term employees were laid off, production was suspended at the Lostock Hall plant and the Government was urged to intervene by MP Nigel Evans.

Within a month a new buyer had emerged and the company was rescued. The 76 remaining employees transferred across to the new owners Lunar Automotive Ltd.

But those who remain say they have suffered delayed wages even though the Government has been providing the money through its furlough scheme during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Post has tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr Marks.