I am writing this still in something of a state of shock, following the news that one of the biggest contractors in the business, WR Refrigeration has gone into administration
Of course, that is nothing I suspect to the shock that was experienced by WR staff and those in its supply chain. I am sure all of you will be joining us in wishing them our best and in hoping that the administrator PwC works hard to preserve the maximum number of jobs.
Matters need to be resolved very quickly at times like this, where critical contracts are concerned, so by the time you read this the landscape could look very different. There may even be a white knight in place.
Because have no doubt, on several levels the industry needs to have WR up and running again in some shape or form. On the basic level, there are a hell of a lot of customers dependent on the service of the engineers up and down the country as they face the busy pre-Christmas period, and a vast mosaic of suppliers and subcontractors for whom WR’s cash is vital. Most important of all, WR’s 600 staff from Swansea to East Kilbride are currently left with inevitable uncertainty.
But on another level, WR has proved itself important to the wider the industry as it has been seeking to do something proactive about the whole culture of training, apprenticeships and engineering careers. The reason it picked up two awards at the Cooling Awards only last month was due in no small part to their willingness to think wider.
Of course, the very fact that WR was crowned Contractor of the Year just weeks before calling in the administrators will no doubt prove a talking point. For my part – and as I write it is too early to know the detail on what exactly provoked WR’s slide into debt – I think it again highlights the perilous financial landscape that this industry has to negotiate, where some of the customers are so enormous and the business so crucial that one contract awarded or not can make or break the cashflow situation. I would add that it shows the speed with which WR’s financial crisis took hold – certainly when the competition was judged back in July, there was no hint of the impending crisis among the judges – and as you know we have a lot of judges.
But this situation certainly gives an added poignancy to the article in this magazine by WR’s Mike Nicholas on the impact of the extreme summer temperatures on the service sector. The article highlights the way that the retailer-contractor relationship was stretched in the summer, and in conclusion, Mr Nicholas calls for a debate on the way contracts are awarded and paid.
The recent past has been studded with big cooling contractors falling – Peak, Denman, Project First – so at a time when everyone has austerity budgets to deal with, perhaps the cooling supply chain needs to come together to look afresh at its economic fundamentals. With the real possibility that the new F-Gas regulations will bring more cost into the industry, the timing may be crucial.