Collapsed contractor hobbled by £10m cost overrun on Durham scheme

A £10m cost blowout on a mixed-use scheme in Durham and dwindling workloads over the winter helped sink North-east firm Tolent after 40 years in business.

In an update on the Gateshead-based contractor’s collapse in February, administrators said trade creditors are owed close to £40m by Tolent Construction with more than 30 firms owed £100,000 or more. Six trade creditors are each owed more than £500,000 with the largest amount standing at £856,000. Unsecured creditors have been told to expect nothing back.

Tolent subsidiaries, social housing arm Tolent Living and asbestos removal specialist Tolent Solutions, are also listed as trade creditors, owed £16m between them, while several insurance firms are also listed as trade creditors, with £6m owed to four firms.

The £85m scheme in Durham, called Milburngate, began in 2019 but a report by Interpath Advisory said losses on the job grew last year and forced the firm into a fire sale to “stabilise its financial position” which included selling 200 acres of land it owned and raising £5m from shareholders via a rights issue.


Former chief executive Andy McLeod (right), pictured in 2019 when Tolent was announced as the contractor for an £85m scheme in Durham called Milburngate. Some staff have claimed the job was too big for the company to take on

Other money-raising initiatives were also being discussed under a so-called ‘strategic plan’, the administrator said, with Tolent businesses being considered for sale in the first half of this year along with more asset sales.

But the losses on Milburngate kept growing, the report said, “resulting in increased financial pressure and significant absorption of management time” while the firm was also hobbled by “increased costs of live projects and delays in hand over of completed projects”.

It said Tolent was unable to hand over the Milburngate scheme to its client, Arlington Richardson, a joint venture of Durham-based property business Arlington Real Estate and the Richardson family.

The problems at Milburngate were exacerbated by a slowdown in Tolent’s turnover during December last year and January this year with the Christmas shutdown and worsening weather being blamed.

“Sales [during the period] were significantly below forecast and unfortunately the strategic plan could not be accelerated in response to the resulting unsustainable cash pressure.”

Tolent, which had 16 live jobs on the go when it sank, had agreed a deal with HMRC to stagger VAT payments under a Time to Pay arrangement but Tolent, which had just £60,000 of cash in the bank at the time of its collapse, ran out of money to settle its bill.

Interpath’s report added that ahead of its collapse, Tolent had “already experienced tightening credit conditions, including suppliers requiring shorter credit terms, the withdrawal of trade credit insurance and customers requiring cash back performance bonds”.

Interpath was brought in last December by Tolent and a finance company called Independent Growth Finance (IGF), which helped fund the rights issue, to look at raising short-term cashflow with shareholders asked to come up with more money to keep the firm going. “But it was not possible to raise adequate funding in the available time,” the report added.

The firm’s 365 employees are owed £600,000 with former staff told they “may receive a dividend” but HMRC has been told “it is unlikely” to see its missing £2.7m from Tolent Construction and a further £1.7m the plc business owed the tax man.

Unsecured creditors for the plc business, who include accountants and insurers, have also been told they won’t get any of their missing £10.9m back either.