Union demands probe into furlough payments to Lancashire caravan manufacturer

A union has called for an urgent investigation into a caravan company boss alleged to have trousered taxpayers money instead of paying staff.
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The Unite union has demanded an urgent investigation into allegations that the owner of Lancashire firm Lunar Automotive has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed.

Unite wants HM Revenue & Customs to probe the business affairs of the company’s owner Nicholas Marks into allegations that he claimed money from the taxpayer-funded job retention scheme (JRS), but did not pass onto the 45-strong workforce who have not been paid since August last year.

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The activities of Nicholas Marks were raised in the Commons by Iain Duncan Smith over a social enterprise called Clarity Products employing those with disabilities which was taken over by the South African a year ago.

Lunar Caravans was moved to the former GE site at Strand RoadLunar Caravans was moved to the former GE site at Strand Road
Lunar Caravans was moved to the former GE site at Strand Road

The former Tory leader said that many of the "decent, but very vulnerable people" at Clarity had not received their wages nor support for childcare and national insurance contributions have not been paid. The sum totalled £200,000, MPs were told.

Unite said that the Lancashire company, previously known as Lunar Caravans, was taken over by Mr Marks in August 2019 while it was in administration, but no caravans had been produced since then.

It had moved from its Lostock Hall home to Strand Road in Preston, but now has left that site. The workforce was furloughed in March last year, and the equipment and machinery are believed to have been moved to a site in Blackpool near the airport.

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Unite regional officer Dave Kennedy said: “We are calling for HMRC and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) to conduct urgent investigations into the affairs of Nicholas Marks. Our members at Lunar Automotive are owed up to £170,000 in unpaid wages – they have not been paid for five months.

“We are asking HMRC and TPR to investigate the non-payment of JRS wages, plus the whereabouts of our members’ pension contributions from August 2019 to the present day which appear to have disappeared into thin air.

“We understand that money was received under the job retention scheme, but not passed onto the workforce. If these allegations are true, it is a very a serious matter as it involves cash from the hard-pressed taxpayer.

“It also has caused deep distress to our members worried about their jobs and facing severe financial hardship as they are currently due five months’ back pay. Some of them have been forced to turn to local food banks to put food on their families’ tables.

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“We need to join up the dots of Mr Marks’ business activities, given that Iain Duncan Smith has raised separate concerns to MPs about a social enterprise, Clarity Products which he is also involved with. Serious questions need to be asked about Mr Marks’ fitness to hold company directorships.”

Support for the Preston workers has come from the town’s MP Sir Mark Hendrick who has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak and HMRC about ‘their employer withholding furlough money and pension contributions’.

Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick has written to the Chancellor to call for action.

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.”

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A former employee of Lunar Caravans said that he had been left without around £7,000 in pay and had not got any pension contributions for five months. They have called in ACAS the arbitration service.

He said: "The staff who are still employed have not had a penny since March. They should have got £1,500 a month. That puts them in a terrible position financially.

"This man should pay what is owed immediately. It is after all, taxpayers' money."

The Post has attempted to contact the owner Nicholas Marks but was unable to get a response.