As a result, administrator Begbies Traynor marketed the site, factory and equipment via auctioneer Sweeney Kincaid, with an initial deadline for offers set for today (February 23); however, it appears that the process finished earlier, on February 16.
Asked about the auction results, Begbies Traynor site administrator Bob Maxwell told this publication yesterday: “We are still trying to sell to LBFG [the Longbenton Food Group], failing which we have another buyer waiting to complete.” He added that the second, unnamed party “possibly” had ambitions to restart production at the frozen foods site.
Previous sale contract torn up
The news that Longbenton Foods is still considered a viable buyer for the former Northumberland Foods facility follows Begbies Traynor’s announcement on January 21, after it locked-up the site on Christmas Eve, that it had rescinded its contract of sale with the firm.
This followed Newcastle-based Longbenton's inability to meet successive payment deadlines after it paid an initial deposit and first occupied the site last autumn, re-employing 70 former Northumberland Foods staff in the process.
As revealed by FoodManufacture.co.uk, concerns still persist over the future of the firm’s Benton Lane site in Newcastle, where staff were sent home on February 11 with no formal information as to when they should return to work.
Heads in the sand?
Leslie Bilboe, chairman of Amble Town Council, welcomed the news that production could potentially restart at the Amble site (given the need for local jobs following its Christmans closure) but urged caution:
“Given that they [Longbenton Foods] must have put down a sizeable deposit to take over the site in the first place, I’m not surprised that they are still in the picture.
“But they seem to have gone ahead with the site purchase in the first place with their heads in the sand, apparently without sufficient capital in place. It’s really quite mystifying.
“What is clear is that – given the historical problems with production at this site – any bank or building society that does lend to the buyer is going to be extremely careful to ensure they get a return on their money.”
Bilboe's colleague, councillor Ian Hinson, said that better communication from Longbenton Food with key local stakeholders would also benefit the firm's cause: "They'd probably find it beneficial if they spoke more to the local council, and would probably find that we supported them up to the hilt."
FoodManufacture.co.uk has repeatedly tried to contact Longbenton Foods for a comment, but the company’s phone line has been disconnected since last Friday.