Furloughed workers return as Henry Boot sites reopen

Henry Boot chief executive Tim Roberts has said the company is in a strong position as it reopens its sites and begins to bring back furloughed workers.

Speaking to Construction News, Roberts (pictured) said that all of the company’s construction and housebuilding sites have now reopened after closing in March, with the exception of one development in Scotland. Roberts said: “It’s encouraging, because even though we’re having to work in a constrained environment, we are managing to get good productivity at all our sites.”

The Henry Boot CEO, who was appointed to the role in August last year, added: “We’ve got a strong balance sheet and good levels of liquidity, and if we didn’t have that it would be very hard to get through the destruction of COVID-19. We have three priorities in the response to coronavirus: safety and welfare; operational responses; and making sure we’ve got enough resources, liquidity and cash, so the business is strong and can get through it.”

Workers from the construction and plant hire divisions of the business, who were furloughed in March, are also being brought back on a staggered basis. Roberts said: “We furloughed a minority of workers and over the last eight weeks we have been reviewing this and are bringing more people back in line with increasing activity on sites, and we expect to keep bringing more people back.”

The group has been topping up furloughed employees’ pay to 100 per cent of their salary, and has cut the salaries of board members by 20 per cent, as well as halving bonuses across the group.

The company released its latest accounts today, covering a period well before the coronavirus lockdown began to bite. The firm reported a pre-tax profit of £49.1m for the year ended 31 December 2019, an increase from £48.6m the year before. Its revenue dropped by £17.4m, from £397.1m in 2018 to £379.7m in 2019. Henry Boot has net cash of £27m and has no outstanding debts.

Roberts added: “We have got a tight control on cost, and on capital going out of the business, so we can preserve as much money as we can, because the first [priority] is to make sure we get through COVID-19 in good form. We are a long-term business so we want to get through this in good shape and be back in those long-term markets we serve.”

The group’s accounts set out a development pipeline with a potential gross developed value of £1.3bn, primarily in the manufacturing and logistics sector, with the rest in urban office and residential development, and health and education.

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