Business

Carillion investors were 'fleeing for the hills'

Royal Liverpool University Hospital
Image caption The collapse of Carillion has delayed the opening of the new £335m Royal Liverpool Hospital

Carillion's investors fled the failing company as it headed for disaster, according to MPs.

The construction firm's annual reports were a worthless guide to its financial health and raise major questions about corporate governance, the MPs say.

The comments come in a joint report published on Monday by the Work and Pensions and Business committees.

Carillion's former auditor, KPMG, will be questioned by MPs on Thursday.

On Monday, the Official Receiver - the body in charge of liquidating the business - said a further 152 Carillion workers would be made redundant this week.

That takes the total number of jobs lost to 1,141 since the UK's second-largest construction company collapsed last month.

The failure has also led to job cuts and widespread disruption among sub-contractors.

However, the Official Receiver said it had saved 7,610 jobs, including 942 over the past week, as other firms buy contracts held by Carillion.

Information 'disconnect'

The Work and Pensions and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committees have already taken evidence from former Carillion directors. On Monday, the MPs released details of written comments from the company's big shareholders.

Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, said there was a "disconnect" between what Carillion directors told MPs and the information from shareholders.

"On one hand, the Carillion directors told us all was sunny" until a major contract in Qatar went wrong.

"On the other hand, investors were fleeing for the hills, and it appears those who looked closest ran fastest," Mr Field said.

It has emerged that one leading investor - Kiltearn Partners - considered suing Carillion.

The company, which at one stage held 10% of Carillion's shares, said in a letter to the committees that it believes "there are clear grounds for an investigation into whether Carillion's management knew, or should have known" about the need for a major financial provision earlier than July 2017.

In that month Carillion shocked the City with a profit warning and by writing down the value of contracts by £845m.

Kiltearn's letter says that if Carillion had not gone into liquidation, it would have "considered participation in civil legal action against Carillion with a view to recovering a proportion of its clients' crystalised losses".

Kiltearn began selling shares in August. At a meeting with Carillion on 13 October, they said former interim chief executive Keith Cochrane could only provide "limited and vague" responses to "fundamental" questions - and consequently Kiltearn sold all shares by 4 January this year.

'Worthless'

The investment firm Standard Life Aberdeen, in a letter to the MPs, said it began a process of divestment in December 2015 due to concerns about financial management, strategy and corporate governance.

Standard Life said these were issues it raised with the board in regular meetings from the end of 2015 until the firm sold up completely in July 2017.

Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business Committee, said investors spotted that Carillion was heading for disaster and fled.

The difficulty in getting a true sense of Carillion's financial health raised "serious" corporate governance issues, she added.

"KMPG will have to explain why they signed-off on accounts which appeared to bear so little relation to reality," Ms Reeves said.

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