Employees' trust fund will gradually buy out shareholders and take on ownership of engineer.
The directors of consulting engineer Allott & Lomax have decided to transfer ownership of the £20m-turnover company to its 500 employees.

The directors have introduced a staff trust fund – modelled on the one operated by retail giant the John Lewis Partnership – that will eventually give the staff 100% ownership of the company.

Allott & Lomax director John Roberts said the move reflected a desire among staff to play a bigger part in the running of the company.

"We want people to feel that what they devote their working lives to is worthwhile. The intention is that there is something tangible at the end of work for everyone, not just the seven people who happen to be directors.

"We hope it becomes a better company, with our staff happier and keener to work here." He added: "It is not a workers' co-operative. We will not be introducing equal pay or anything like that. Not until after the revolution, anyway." Roberts said the day-to-day running of the business would not be affected. The company's affairs will continue to be overseen by its directors.

Five trustees have been appointed to administer the staff fund, with three members nominated by the board and two elected by staff.

We want people to feel that what they devote their working lives to is worthwhile

John Roberts, Director, Allott & Lomax

The trustees have a legal obligation to act properly and fairly. They have the ultimate sanction of sacking directors if they are worried about decisions being made. Roberts said: "That's a risk we are willing to take." Under the system, a portion of the company's profit is held over and paid into the staff trust. The trustees then decide how the money will be distributed among the members, with payments proportional to salary levels.

Employees qualify for membership of the staff trust after they have worked 12 months at the company.

So far, 20% of the company's shares have been transferred to the trust fund. The remaining 80%, which is split between the seven directors, will be bought gradually as directors retire over the next 10 years.

The scheme has been set up as an alternative to the present arrangement whereby new directors have to buy out the director they replace.

Roberts expects the new system to improve the long-term management of the firm, as it will make it easier to recruit directors without them having to take a major equity stake in the company.