With Widdowson Logistics in administration once more, Motortransport.co.uk revisits the events that lead to the operator’s pre-pack in July 2016.

Although incorporated in 1975, business conducted by former coal merchant AM Widdowson & Son can be traced back more than 100 years.

Like any haulage firm with a few years on the clock there’s been plenty of ups and downs, but for this Leicestershire outfit it’s been a particularly breathless few years.

A stricken AM Widdowson was kept on the road via a pre-pack administration in July of this year, which was the culmination of a fast-moving series of events that has seen a failed sale, new owners, and the haulier enter into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) within the space of two years.

While 220 jobs have been saved thanks to the pre-pack, it has left creditors of the business potentially nursing a near £13m loss. So what exactly went so wrong at a firm that had counted Waitrose and chemist Boots as customers in the recent past?

An administrator’s report (including a statement of proposals) by Leonard Curtis, published at Companies House earlier this month, lays bare the hidden dramas that rocked the business.

As recently as 2012 it was all smiles at the operator, based on Mill Lane Industrial Estate, Leicester. It had been picked to handle Waitrose’s Midlands logistics requirements, the first third-party ever selected to cover this region of the UK by a supermarket at that point in time.

The deal involved Widdowson moving full and groupage loads to Waitrose DCs in Aylesford, Bardon, Bracknell and Milton Keynes, and was described by then Widdowson commercial director John Hawksworth as “a significant achievement”.

Hawksworth – a member of one of the two families that owned the haulier – would later move on to Ballyvesey-owned Birds Transport before landing back in Leicester at Premier Logistics.

The haulier, named AM Widdowson after the founder’s wife Ada Mary, had by 2012 diversified and was offering pallet repair, vehicle maintenance, contract packing (for the likes of Boots), and driver training.

It had 120 vehicles, 200 trailers and 550,000ft² of warehousing at what was to be its recent height of success.

Fellow Jigsaw consortium member Elddis Transport was its transport partner in the North, and Lenham Storage performed the same role in the South.

Dark clouds gather

However, according to the administrator, the business was about to be hit by a perfect storm. It lost two profitable contracts worth £5m in turnover in March and September 2014.

The Driver CPC is also blamed in the report for leading to a shortage of drivers, which caused operational inefficiencies.

A new software and IT system was a disaster and turned Widdowson’s September 2014 peak business period into a loss-making nightmare.

Leonard Curtis also confirms that industry rumours of a sale process at the business a few years back were true.

The operator was owned by the Hawksworth and Stevenson families and it was known within road transport that the older owners were looking for an exit strategy.

It almost happened too, according to the report, with 18 months of negotiations – and all the distractions that brings to management – reaching the due diligence stage before “falling away” in early 2015.

It proved too much, and the haulier fell into arrears with HMRC. The taxman issued a winding-up petition against the company in April 2015.

The petition was adjourned after new owner HLD Group came in for the business on 16 June that year. The new owner subsequently put the business into a CVA on 6 July 2015 to avoid liquidation, with an agreement to repay £2.6m to the taxman and others over five years.

Targets missed

However for the CVA to work, several operational and efficiency savings were required, and they were all missed.

Contracts lost after the CVA were not replaced; redundancies and a reduction in fleet did not go far enough; fuel costs as a percentage of sales were underestimated during the CVA, and its ageing vehicle fleet could not achieve the efficiency savings needed.

The rent reduction the business expected was overestimated; the warehouse and transport management systems were not up to the task and, for good measure, a claim from a customer resulted in non-payment of a £192,000 debt in late 2015, the administrator confirms.


Reading the report, some may be surprised the operator kept going for so long. Ahead of the recent pre-pack administration this July, annual losses reached close to £3m for the year to 31 March 2016, and from 1 April to 30 May 2016 turnover bombed and a further £600,000 loss was made.

Widdowson fell into arrears regarding the terms of its CVA and also with HMRC again, which in June 2016 sent notification of enforcement activity to come.

The game was up, and the pre-pack administration was seen as the only option left to keep the business on the road.

AM Widdowson changed its name to Loglecdissol shortly before its business, contracts, equipment and associated goodwill were purchased on 6 July by connected party Widdowson Logistics.

The latter is headed by MD Damion Davis and was newly incorporated in May this year.

Davis was MD at Crewe-based chilled transport provider Davis Haulage [last month this business was sold to Buffaload Logistics] before he stepped down in April this year, and that company and Widdowson are now part of Davis Haulage Group.

Davis Haulage Group owns Widdowson Logistics and it is owned by HLD Group.

In an interview last month, Davis said he had ambitions to expand what is now Widdowson Logistics through acquisition despite the turbulent past few years, stating that the haulier’s customers had been supportive and there was already a good pipeline of new work secured.

Davis also explained the events that led to the administration, and said that after AM Widdowson & Son was placed into a CVA “we realised some of the problems were far larger than anticipated”.

Davis said the operation is now more selective in the work it takes on and that its transport and warehouse management systems are “slicker, and more efficient”.

“The plan is to expand the business,” he said. “HLD is open to more business.”

The challenge now following the operator’s recent history is changing perceptions after a CVA followed by a pre-pack administration.

Creditors set to lose out

While the sale of the failed business to connected party Widdowson Logistics earlier this year saved jobs, the report from Leonard Curtis sets out that the majority of the £2.5m sale-value raised through this was used to pay a debt owed to Close Invoice Finance, which provided the haulier with an invoice finance facility.

The largest unsecured creditor is HMRC, which is owed close to £4m in outstanding PAYE and National Insurance contributions. In addition to this, trade, expenses and CVA creditors are owed more than £8.7m.

This includes recruiters, vehicle hire firms and lenders, and its former pallet network Palletways, which at the point of July’s administration was owed close to £100,000. Pall-Ex also appears on the creditors’ list.

It’s not looking good for any of those unsecured creditors either, with the administrator of the view that there is unlikely to be any money left to pay out once the liquidation of Loglecdissol (formerly AM Widdowson & Son) is complete.


This article first appeared in Commercial Motor 22 September 2016.