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Calls for probe into Ashton firm where workers owed £170,000 in unpaid wages

Posted on - 17th January, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, Crime, Preston News
The Lunar Caravans factory in Lostock Hall Pic: Google
Lunar Automotive was previously Lunar Caravans and based in Lostock Hall Pic: Google

A call has been made for an investigation into allegations that the owner of Lunar Automotive in Ashton-on-Ribble has not paid his workforce to the tune of about £170,000 while they have been furloughed.

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Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, wants HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to probe the business affairs of the company’s owner Nicholas Marks.

Mr Marks allegedly claimed money from the taxpayer-funded job retention scheme (JRS), but didn’t pass it on to the 45-strong workforce, who have not been paid since August 2020.

Unite said that the Channel Way Business Park company, previously known as Lunar Caravans and based in Lostock Hall, was taken over by Mr Marks in August 2019, but no caravans have been produced since then.

Read more: Lostock Hall caravan firm Lunar has been sold

The workforce was furloughed in March last year, and the equipment and machinery has 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 about £170,000 in unpaid wages – they have not been paid for five months.

“We’re 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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Earlier this week, the activities of Mr Marks were raised in the House of Commons by Iain Duncan Smith over a social enterprise called Clarity Products employing people with disabilities, which was taken over by Mr Marks a year ago.

The former Conservative leader said that many of the ‘decent, but very vulnerable people’ at Clarity had not received their wages or support for childcare and national insurance contributions not been paid. The sum totalled £200,000, MPs were told.

Read more: These are all the Preston businesses fined or given notices for Covid rule breaches

Dave Kennedy from Unite 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 that he is 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 city’s MP Sir Mark Hendrick, who has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak and HMRC about ‘their employer withholding furlough money and pension contributions’.

Lunar Automotive has been approached for comment.

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