Comment – Victim of circumstance…

Why we need to look beyond the company owner when a demolition firm fails.

In the immediate aftermath of a fatal site accident, you will often hear people say “no-one sets out to kill their fellow demolition workers”. It is a cliché, but it is also true. Demolition companies invest huge amounts of money training their staff, supplying them with protective equipment and clothing, putting in place safety systems, deploying methodologies and equipment that removes them from danger at every opportunity.

Similarly, no demolition company owner ever sets out for their business to fail or to fold. Running a demolition business is hard. Bloody hard. It is often a thankless task; a juggling act in which the owner attempts to appease workers, clients and suppliers alike. It will involve long working hours and sleepless nights. It requires compromise and sacrifice. And don’t be fooled by the fact that some demolition company owners drive nice cars or live in fancy homes. They didn’t get those by chance; they got them through years and even decades of hard graft. And for every Bentley-driving demolition company owner, there are ten or more out there that are barely able to fuel their clapped-out and second-hand Land Rover Discovery.

So the news this week that economic circumstance and that malicious swine that is poor cash-flow have claimed another victim – Liston Group – should be cause for universal sadness.
It is the natural course of these things that there will be a collective wringing of hands. There will be concern for the demolition workers that will lose their livelihoods as a result. There will be concern also for the many suppliers that will likely be impacted by a demolition company’s untimely demise.

But rest assured, no-one will feel this loss more keenly than Tony McLean. He will have worked tirelessly to build his company to a standard that allowed it to achieve membership of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors. He will have endured weeks or even months of sleepless nights as his worst fears were realised, as the unthinkable became the inevitable. It is him that will carry the burden of having to let go staff and, likely, friends. It is him that will have to face some tough conversations with any suppliers that remain unpaid. And it is him that will have to stand by as the company he built is laid to rest.

To make all of this worse, it appears that none of this was of his making. It is my understanding that 2018 was pretty quiet for Liston Group. But the company had fought back, securing a forward pipeline of work that, in a just world, might have pulled it back from the brink.

Sadly, a mixture of poor and unpredictable cash-flow and one or more delayed contract starts eventually dragged the company under, adding yet another name to the long list of demolition companies that have succumbed in similar fashion in recent years.

The nature of these things dictates that there must now be a period of unedifying scrutiny, social media posts from disgruntled former employees and bile and vitriol from unpaid suppliers and sub-contractors. Like with a site accident or fatality, when a company collapses, perceived culpability and blame travels upwards, coming to rest at the feet of the person that started the company in the first place.

In many instances, however, that blame should continue to travel upwards. It is clients that keep demolition contractors on tenterhooks with costly men and machines on standby while the client organises a contract start date. It is clients and main contractors that have devised a web of deception and deceit to delay and withhold payments. It is the UK government that is too caught up in the omnishambles cluster-f*ck that is Brexit to set in place and to enforce a fair payment scheme that ensures demolition contractors are paid on time rather than if and when their clients feel like it.

So yes, my feelings this week are with the Liston Group demolition workers that will find themselves (temporarily, I hope) out of work. My feelings are with any unpaid suppliers who will now find themselves left short through no fault of their own. But my thoughts are also with Tony McLean who will not only have to stand by as his creation is picked apart and buried, but who will also likely – and without justification – be blamed for its untimely death.