A group of former employees of W H Barley (Transport and Storage) are taking legal action against the company following its collapse into administration just four days before Christmas.

The employees are claiming that the Milton Keynes-based pallet distribution and warehousing firm, which had a fleet of 130 trucks and 50 trailers, failed to consult with staff ahead of making them redundant.

Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992, section 188, any company planning to make redundancies must provide staff with a 30-day consultation period prior to making any job cuts, or 45 days if the company employs more than 100 staff.

Nuala Toner of Warwickshire law firm Nualaw, told MT: “We are representing some of the dismissed employees and will be seeking compensation for them at tribunal.

“Although the company is in administration this does not excuse the company’s failure to undertake consultation before the dismissals.”

She added: “Having been contacted by several ex-employees of W H Barley (Transport and Storage) Limited it appears that the company may have failed to follow its obligations to undertake consultation prior to making a large number of redundancies. We intend to issue a claim at the employment tribunal which, if successful, may result in compensation for the dismissed employees.”

W H Barley employed 38 HGV drivers as well as 39 warehouse and admin staff. It appointed administrators Marco Piacquadio and Alan Coleman of FTS Recovery on 21 December.

MT understands a potential buyer for the company fell away during the Christmas period. The IP and goodwill have been sold for a peppercorn amount to Linkline Transport and the secured creditor, HSBC Invoice Finance, was persuaded to pay the staff their wages on 22 December.

The administrator is now looking to sell all the tangible assets. This includes less that 50 trucks – as some of the fleet was leased – and warehouse shelving, foklifts etc.

Announcing the administration on LinkedIn on 22 December, chief executive Emma Barber blamed “financial challenges” for the firm’s collapse and said “increasing cost pressures are reaching breaking point for many hauliers”.

She added that fellow RHA members had told her the lead-up to Christmas – traditionally a bumper period for operators moving retail goods – is “the worst since 2008”.

“It is with great sadness that we must share the difficult news that W H Barley Transport & Storage has unfortunately gone into administration,” her message read.

“This decision was made after exhausting all available options to sustain the business, and it comes with heavy hearts as we acknowledge the impact on our valued employees, clients, and suppliers.

“The decision to take this step has not been made lightly, and it follows extensive efforts to explore alternative solutions for our financial challenges. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we have reached a point where administration is deemed necessary. Emma and Peter Barber have tried everything in their power to fund the business moving forward.

“Freight volumes are down by 10-15 percent with fewer goods being moved around as the cost-of-living bites. In short, costs are still rising faster than inflation, profits are meagre, and hauliers are saying that customers are not wanting to pay reasonable prices.

“The worst-case scenario has come true for many. Business failures are on the rise. A recent report concluded that a record number of hauliers (463) have gone bust this year – more than twice as many as last year.

“To our dedicated employees, we regret to inform you that, due to the company’s closure, there are no longer job opportunities available. We understand the challenges this poses for you, and we want to express our sincere gratitude for your hard work and commitment during your time with our family business W H Barley Transport & Storage.

“To our esteemed clients and suppliers, we deeply regret any inconvenience caused by the company’s closure. We appreciate the trust and partnership you extended to us over the years.

“This is an incredibly challenging time for everyone involved and we appreciate your understanding and cooperation as we navigate through this process,” she continued. ”We sincerely thank each and every one of you for being a part of the W H Barley community. We extend our heartfelt best wishes to all during these difficult times.”

Barber’s comments refer to an MT report last month revealing that the number of haulage businesses entering insolvency jumped from 225 in 2020/21, to 363 in 2021/22 and then to 463 in the most recent 12-month period. This represents a rise of 173% in just two years (year ending 30 September).

Obtained by Price Bailey under the Freedom of Information Act, the data also revealed that 33% of businesses in the sector are deemed a maximum credit risk, up from 22% 12 months ago. Businesses in the maximum risk category are considered at imminent risk of collapse and will find it almost impossible to access extra funding unless directors provide personal guarantees.

Nobody from W H Barley was available when MT rang for further comment.