Wales

Debt trail businesswoman got Welsh government support cash

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Media captionBBC Wales' India Pollock quizzes businesswoman Judith Thomas

A businesswoman who is being pursued over unpaid wages and tax received financial support from the Welsh Government.

Judie Thomas, who runs Project Wd in Swansea, has been a director at five other companies previously.

Two of these went into liquidation and two were struck off the Companies House register.

The Welsh Government is investigating how Ms Thomas's latest business venture was awarded grant aid.

Ms Thomas, who was previously made bankrupt, was the subject of a BBC Wales Week In Week Out programme in July 2010, which revealed a trail of debt and broken promises following an event she organised and promoted showcasing Welsh designers at London Fashion Week.

Several suppliers for the event told the programme they were owed tens of thousands of pounds by Ms Thomas for goods and services.

A BBC Wales News investigation has since discovered Project Wd, a garment manufacturing firm, was awarded £9,000 from the Welsh Government's ReAct scheme in 2014-15.

ReAct is aimed at getting people who have been made redundant back into work.

Image caption Iestyn Davies said "reasonable steps" need to ensure due diligence in Welsh Government schemes

Some of those employed by Ms Thomas under the scheme are pursuing legal action for unpaid wages.

The company, of which Ms Thomas is the sole director and beneficiary, has also recruited apprentices through the Welsh Government's skills programme for 16 to 24-year-olds, Jobs Growth Wales.

The Welsh Government reimburses participating companies for the salaries of those recruited through the scheme.

Helena Foundoukis, 24, from Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, who began working as an apprentice sewing machinist at Project Wd in January said she was not paid for three weeks' work.

She said: "I feel very frustrated. I thought it would be an excellent opportunity - too good to be true, in a sense.

"So I was left feeling confused and very angry. I think the Welsh Government should perhaps have been more cautious with granting her apprentices."

Image caption Helena Foundoukis said she was left out of pocket after working for Ms Thomas

It is understood the Welsh Government has recently settled Ms Foundoukis's unpaid salary of £650.

Former employee, Theresa Jones, has claimed a tax rebate of £351 was deducted from her salary by Ms Thomas - something she has reported to HM Revenue and Customs.

Ms Jones, a seamstress from Ammanford, has begun legal proceedings to recover the rebate and unpaid wages, totalling £1,037.

BBC Wales has discovered Ms Thomas has county court judgements outstanding against her former companies as well as six judgements totalling £11,500 against Project Wd.

The oldest CCJ against Project Wd dates back to April 2014 and was not in place when Welsh Government support was awarded.

However, questions have been raised about whether the proper checks and balances were carried out in view of the "red flags" evident in Ms Thomas's business background.

Liquidation

Chris Price, director of Marton Civil Engineering, Abercynon, said he had pursued a debt of nearly £33,000 for work his company was sub-contracted to do in 2014 for another of Ms Thomas' firm's A&J Thomas Holdings Ltd, which went into liquidation in January 2015.

Mr Price expressed surprise the Welsh Government had provided financial support to Ms Thomas in view of her track record in business.

"It doesn't take a lot of digging… previous companies have gone through, been wound up, there was a documentary on her previous business dealings, so I think a bit more due diligence would have been good," he said.

The Insolvency Service confirmed A&J Thomas Holdings was put into liquidation at the request of HMRC in early 2015, with Marton Civil Engineering among its creditors.

Image caption Theresa Jones has launched legal proceedings against Ms Thomas

BBC Wales understands HMRC is pursuing a debt of between £65,000 and £95,000.

The Welsh Government confirmed Project Wd was awarded ReAct funding in 2014-15, but said nothing had been paid out to the company in respect of three separate Jobs Growth Wales positions advertised since 2015.

A spokesman said companies applying for support through either scheme were subject to financial checks "for at least the previous 12 months."

He added: "We are in the process of investigating this case and it would be inappropriate to comment further while this is ongoing.

"It's important to note that both programmes require evidence of wages paid before any funding is released to the company."

HMRC said it could not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.

BBC Wales has tried several times to ask Ms Thomas about these matters but she has repeatedly failed to answer any questions.