Business recovery: Doing your job don’t make it OK

That same message was last week directed at Kroll, administrators of Turner & Newall, the UK engineering subsidiary of US-based parent Federal Mogul, over its actions in relation to T&N’s pension fund.

The firm froze contributions from UK subsidiaries of Federal Mogul, prompting the T&N pension pot’s independent trustee to raise the alarm that the danger of wind-up had been increased.

Unions, seeing 40,000 pensions at risk, were furious with Kroll. But the firm stated it was legally obliged to look after the interest of all creditors and was merely following the rules.

Unions are exasperated at what they see as the failure of British insolvency law to protect workers as effectively as in the US and Europe. The fact that Kroll was just ‘doing its job’ cut little ice in some quarters. Amicus described the firm’s actions as ‘callous’.

So does the insolvency community have a role to play in bringing about reform?

Gary Brisley, head of policy at the TGWU, says the profession should use its know-how to make ‘public noise’ over changes to the law to better protect pension scheme members. But the profession’s main foray into the debate has been to complain that the bill could create liability for turnaround professionals. R3, the insolvency trade association, says it is contributing to the development of the pensions bill, but insists it is not responsible for initiating public policy.

It’s perhaps too easy to point the finger at practitioners when things go wrong. After all, it is natural for a profession to look after its own interests first.

On the other hand, according to Amicus, two workers at T&N’s Bradford plant have suffered nervous breakdowns since the news of the pensions crisis and one has had a heart attack.

Perhaps the profession – with its experience of the relationship between company failure and pensions in peril – could do more to make the case for change.

  • Brian Moher covers business recovery for Accountancy Age.

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