One of the UK’s largest steelwork contractors falls into administration, with 430 jobs set to go

Whirl pool

Wales’ biggest steelwork contractor Rowecord Engineering is set to go into administration, with around 430 jobs set to be lost.

The Newport-based company – which built the roof of the Olympics Acquatic Centre – until recently employed 500 people.

Grant Thornton has been appointed administrator.

Alistair Wardell, senior partner at the Wales office of Grant Thornton in Cardiff, said the firm was the UK’s third-largest structural steel engineering company: “This is a devastating blow, not just for the Rowecord workforce which will be affected, but for the Welsh economy as a whole.

“It is also likely to have an impact on a number of other companies along the M4 corridor that up until now have been suppliers to Rowecord.

“Among our roles as administrators will be to explore which, if any, parts of the business can be salvaged and whether any jobs can be saved.

“A number of Rowecord employees will be retained in the short term post-administration to complete work in progress.”

Grant Thornton said that until recently Rowecord employed over 500 staff at sites in Newport, Baglan and the Tata Steelworks in Port Talbot.

The administrator said around 430 people will lose their jobs, while about 80 will be kept.

He blamed the collapse on the company losing money on contracts and the general economic climate, which had led to future contracts drying up.

He said a dispute with Tata Steel over the delayed construction of a new blast furnace had contributed to the firm’s downfall, although Tata Steel said the issue had been settled a month ago.

The firm built the roof at the London Olympics Aquatic Centre, as well as the stadiums for Cardiff City Football club and the Llanelli Rugby Club.

It is currently working on major projects at the Dover Docks and the British Museum and recently built the blast furnace for Tata at Port Talbot, where it has 120 people on site providing general maintenance.

In calling in administrators, Rowecord managing director Andrew Hoppe said the company had “exhausted every option to sustain the business for the future”.

Rowecord turned over £68.2m in its last full financial year to 30 June 2012 and made a pre-tax profit of £3.2m.

These results were an improvement on the previous year, when it posted revenue of £40m and a pre-tax loss of £4.7m.

The firm was founded in 1967 and also worked on the Lawn Tennis Academy in Roehampton and scores of major bridges.

Allan Todd, director of market development at the British Constructional Steelwork Association, said further casualties may follow due to cut-throat competition and low margins in the specialist sector.

He said: “It’s surprising how few have gone to the wall. It pains me to say it but Rowecord is not the first and probably won’t be the last.”

He said the market was tough for “all” UK steelwork contractors, but he was slightly surprised Rowecord had fallen as it had diversified away from traditional building work into other higher-margin sectors, such as servicing work.

He said there may be interest in the UK firm from overseas buyers hailing from markets where steel is less established in construction.

A Welsh government spokesperson said the Welsh govermnent had offered to support the business, but this support had been declined.

The spokesperson said: “This is very disappointing news especially for the company, its employees and their families. The Welsh government has worked closely with Rowecord to support the business and offered assistance to the maximum level allowable within state aid rules.

“However, the offer was not taken up as Rowecord decided that it is in the best interests of its employees and partners to file for administration when a buyer for the business may be identified. In the meantime we will ensure that as much support as possible is made available to the employees including the Welsh Government ReAct programme.”