The BBC reported bad news for another British brand last week. “Norton Motorcycles has gone into administration. The Leicestershire firm was reportedly struggling to pay a tax bill and faced a winding-up order. Founded in 1898, Norton is one of the last remaining British motorcycle brands and best known for its involvement in motorsport. The administration puts about 100 jobs at its Castle Donington factory in question”.
There was more. “Founded in Birmingham, Norton began making motorbikes in 1902 and soon became associated with races such as the Isle of Man TT. Among its most famous models are the Dominator and the Commando, while its Norton Interpol was used by UK police in the 1980s”. Ah yes, the legendary Interplod, as it was nicknamed.
The Guardian, though, soon pointed out that this was not just about an outstanding tax bill: “the story is far more complex than that. It is a pile-up that includes hundreds of hapless pension holders, together with unsuspecting Norton customers, staff and even government ministers, who repeatedly endorsed Norton as millions of pounds in taxpayer support flowed into the firm”. So who were those Government ministers?
“In July 2015, the then chancellor, George Osborne, said his government’s long-term economic plan was ‘all about backing successful British brands like Norton’, as he visited the firm’s Leicestershire factory” as he announced a £4m grant to the company and its supply chain. Also, “Four years earlier, the business secretary at the time, Vince Cable, announced a £625,000 government-backed loan by Santander to Norton”. All gone.
And then there was the former Brexit Secretary. “Just 13 months ago, Stephen Barclay … also visited the factory. He described Norton as a ‘great business, great brand’”. He Tweeted later “Great to visit Norton Motorcycles to meet @norton_ceo and the team. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your thoughts on our #Brexit deal and letting me explain what it means for you and your business. Next time I visit, you're going to have to take me for a spin”. ITV’s Joel Hills recalled the event last Friday.
“Just over a year ago [Steve Barclay] visited Norton Motorcycles. He called it a ‘great business’ that would thrive when UK leaves the EU. Norton went into administration two days ago. CEO claims ‘uncertainties over Brexit’ were a major factor in the company’s failure”. Well, up to a point. But the real reason for the collapse seems worse for Barclay.
The Guardian report lays bare what Barclay and his colleagues did not seem to ask about. "Even before this week’s collapse, [Stuart Garner, former Norton CEO] was being pursued by dozens of ‘ordinary working people’, some of the 228 savers whose pension pots added up to the £14m that was invested into Norton following a fraud”. Do go on.
“Those savers had been persuaded by a conman to transfer their retirement funds out of conventional pension plans during 2012 and 2013. Their money was then locked up for five years into three new pension plans controlled by Garner - where the cash was invested in just one asset: Norton shares”. Garner now claims he is just another victim.
So the question has to be asked: what did the Government know, and when did it know it? And if it didn’t know, it damn well should have done. What a bunch of Barclays Bankers.
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