All those memories

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From the moment of its inception, a demolition company is locked in a battle for survival. Like a bait fish birthed into a pool of hungry sharks, some are eaten immediately while others are chased away.

Those that survive then face a new battle: a battle for recognition and reputation; a battle to win work from companies with far greater experience, far broader connections, and far deeper pockets.

Even when a demolition company has been around for long enough to justifiably describe itself as “established”, it still faces a daily fight to maintain a full order book, keep the wages and the bills paid, and to keep those pesky newcomers at bay.

But if the life of a demolition company is brutal, the death of a demolition company is even more so.

There is no farewell tour of the type that might be afforded to an ageing rock star. There is no testimonial match to say thank you to a beloved football player. Regardless of all it might have achieved and accomplished, a fallen demolition company quickly becomes like so much carrion; a carcass to be picked over.

Squibb Group has become the latest company to walk this sad, lonely but well-trodden path.

There will, of course, be a circling of vultures – The scale of the debt amassed by the company, the redundancies and the likely impact upon the wider supply chain will guarantee that the company’s remains are pecked clean and that its name is dragged through the mud.

But we should not forget or overlook the contribution that the Squibb Group and the Squibb family made to this industry.

Barking Power Station, the Imperial Tobacco building in Nottingham, the MG Rover facility at Longbridge and countless more besides, erased from the nation’s skyline by the skill of the Squibb Group.

There are buildings up and down the land that exist only because the Squibb team cleared the way. There are countless individuals that learned the fine and noble art of demolition under Squibb Group tutelage. And there are hundreds or even thousands of suppliers that have enjoyed decades of lucrative business thanks to the orders awarded to them by generations of the Squibb family.

All those years; all those projects and all those people. “All those memories” [to paraphrase Roy Batty in Blade Runner] “lost, like tears in rain”.

Amidst the bitter aftermath of the company’s untimely and calamitous collapse, there will be some who will tell you otherwise. But make no mistake. Over the course of three-quarters of a century, Squibb Group was a titan of the demolition industry and one of its finest exponents. And demolition is not for the faint-hearted nor for the incompetent. A demolition company doesn’t get to 75 years of age unless it is doing something – many things – right.

For some, it will be difficult to look beyond the current situation; the catastrophic collapse; and the impact upon both employees and the wider industry supply chain.

But, as someone that is not directly impacted and who has followed the company’s fortunes for years, I will be taking a different stance; a stance that I hope – in time – some may come to share.

When I think of the name Zinedine Zidane, I do not think of the head-butt on Italian player Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final. That was an anomaly, a tiny, momentary blight at the very end of an otherwise glittering career. I think instead of the skill, the flair and the artistry of one of the greatest players of all time.

I would like to remember Squibb Group in the same way; not for when it went dark but for when it shone so very brightly.

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Squibb applies for administration

Construction News is reporting that Squibb Group has applied to enter administration, potentially bringing to an end 75 years of demolition history.

As we have reported previously, the company had previously sought a Company Voluntary Arrangement and was set to hear its fate yesterday. But that CVA meeting was cancelled.

According to Construction News, the company lodged the application for administration just before close of business of Friday last week.

The application for administration creates a moratorium during which no legal action can be taken by creditors against the company without leave of the court.

Documents shown to DemolitionNews show that the company owes more than £23.3 million to around 300 creditors. Unsecured creditors are owed £13.8 million.

Read more here.

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Squibb CVA “off the table”

A meeting of creditors that could have decided the fate of the embattled Squibb Group that was scheduled for tomorrow will not now take place.
DemolitionNews has seen a letter sent today to creditors by administrator Begbies Traynor that says:

Notice of Cancellation of a virtual meeting of creditors’ of Squibb Group Limited on 21 November 2023

Further to the adjourned meeting of creditors to consider the Company Voluntary Arrangement to be held on the above date, I write to advise that pursuant to instructions received from the directors, they have withdrawn the CVA Proposal.

As such, the meeting on 21 November 2023 is cancelled and no attendance will be required.

It is not clear whether this means the directors have been unsuccessful in gaining agreement over the CVA or if they are now pursuing an alternative way forward amidst debts of £23.3 million.

Demolition and the Great Capone Ploy

Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest of all Britons, famously once said: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. With that in mind, I am going to begin with a very brief but timely history lesson.

Alphonse “Al” Capone was a notorious gangster during the American prohibition era of the 1920s. As co-founder and head of the Chicago Outfit, Capone presided over an empire of crime in the Windy City. Even though he was allegedly involved in illegal gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, and protection rackets; and even though he was widely believed to have given the order for the St Valentine’s Day massacre in which seven members of the rival North Side Gang were brutally murdered in broad daylight, it seemed that law enforcement couldn’t touch him. His reign of terror was eventually brought to an end when, at the age of just 33, he was sent prison. And his 11-year sentence was not for murder or racketeering, but for tax evasion. One of the most notorious criminals in American history and a former Public Enemy No. 1 was brought down not by Eliot Ness and his team of prohibition “Untouchables” but by the tax man.

Now maybe I am being cynical. Maybe I am putting two and two together and making six and three quarters, purely for editorial expedience. And maybe, just maybe, the latest proposals from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is merely aimed at closing a gaping legislative loophole.

Under Ireland’s current tax structure, a reduced rate of 13.5 percent VAT is applied to demolition projects. The CIOB says “this contradicts the principles outlined in the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, and the EU Taxonomy Regulation 2020”.

The CIOB is, therefore, proposing the Government use the tax system to incentivise repair and restoration over demolition, thereby reducing the embodied carbon footprint of Ireland’s built environment. It is calling for demolition to be charged at the standard rate of 23 percent VAT, while repair and renovation activities remain at the reduced rate of 13.5 percent.

“Charging full VAT for demolition in Ireland while maintaining the reduced rate for repair and refurbishment and introducing a levy for demolition in Northern Ireland would create tax environments that reflect the principles of existing climate legislation and the urgency of the national net zero by 2050 targets,” says CIOB Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Joseph Kilroy.

On the face of it, while such a move would be entirely anti-demolition, it would unquestionably help tick a sustainability box in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. But is there more to it?

Thus far, the most high-profile demolition project to be kicked to the kerb over embodied carbon concerns is the Marks and Spencer flagship store on London’s Oxford Street. That project was halted after the intervention of the UK Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove.

But Mr Gove is a busy man. When he is not pulling a face like a startled weasel, he is being pursued through a London railway station by a mob of pro-Palestinian protestors. He doesn’t have the bandwidth to look over every project that might waste his time or some of that precious embodied carbon he is so concerned about. Far better to simply tax demolition to the point of extinction.

Now I realise that CIOB’s initial proposals are aimed at Ireland and Northern Ireland and that those proposals impact outside Mr Gove’s domain. But read the CIOB statement a little more closely and it is clear they have their sights set on the UK as a whole.

“Currently, in the UK, renovation and retrofitting costs are subject to the standard 20 percent VAT, but demolition and new build is not, often making it more financially attractive to raze buildings to the ground than restore them, despite restoration usually being the more sustainable option. The UK’s lack of VAT on demolition makes it an outlier compared with most other nations.”

Ireland and Northern Ireland are merely a test case; a guinea pig; a legislative canary sent into the mine to check for toxicity and controversy.

And the CIOB is not above bending the facts to suit their own purposes either. It claims that “demolition and new build generate significant levels of embodied carbon as well as pollution, noise, traffic and disruption, and waste, most of which ends up in a landfill or being incinerated”.

Does it? Does it really? So the UK demolition industry’s 95 percent plus recycling rate is a work of fiction, is it?

As I said, perhaps this is all a bizarre coincidence, and maybe the CIOB really is interested only in fostering a more sustainable future for us all.

But always remember. Authorities in 1920s Chicago couldn’t take down Al Capone using legislation; so they took him down with tax instead.

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Come for the news and stay for the chat in our after-show discussion session, The Craic.