An urgent investigation into allegations that the owner of Lunar Automotive in Preston has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed has been called for by Unite.
Unite wants HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) 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.
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 Mr Marks a year ago.
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 company, previously known as Lunar Caravans, was taken over by Mr Marks in August 2019, but no caravans have been produced since then. The workforce was furloughed in March last year, and the equipment and machinery have been moved to a site in Blackpool.
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,” he added.
“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,” Kennedy continued.
“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’.
By Shaun Noble