A businessman last night claimed he had lost his life’s fortune following the collapse of a lucrative multimillion-pound prison contract.
Father-of-three Dave Atkinson says a delay in the construction of a prison laundry left him with huge bills totalling thousands of pounds and forced his company into liquidation.
The 60-year-old’s County Durham-based firm struck up the multimillion-pound agreement with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in December 2012 which he claims was worth £1m a year.
In the unique deal, Mr Atkinson subcontracted prison inmates to clean laundry from P&O Ltd’s North Sea ferry fleet at a proposed new cleaning facility at HMP Ranby, in Nottinghamshire, due to open in June last year.
He says he agreed to foot the initial £4,000-a-week extra transport bill for the laundry to be shipped to HMP Holme House and HMP Wymott until the new prison service was up and running.
But Mr Atkinson says the prison laundry has never materialised and MoJ officials from the National Offenders’ Management Service (NOMS) terminated his contract claiming the businessman had accrued debts of more than £215,000.
Now – after his company New Life Industries Ltd went into liquidation and 10 of his employees were made redundant – Mr Atkinson claims the MoJ had cost the North East jobs and led to the cleaning contract going abroad to Holland.
Last night, Mr Atkinson, originally from North Shields, North Tyneside, but now living in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, said: “We’ve lost more than £160,000 because we were having to travel 360 miles a day, every day, seven days a week. This was a contract that was worth £1m a year if it had been done properly but it’s gone now.
“I’ve lost everything and I’m 60 years old – starting up again when you’re 60 is impossible. We’re considering legal action.”
Mr Atkinson, whose company operated out of Hackworth Industrial Park, in Shildon, staged crunch talks with NOMS officials after his debts soared as a result of the travel costs.
During that meeting he claims he presented a written legal opinion in which his solicitors said the MoJ had breached their contract and threatened to pursue a claim for damages.
Despite that, officials gave him just 24 hours to thrash out a deal to repay the “debt” before he received an email terminating the contract on December 13 last year.
Now he says the remainder of his business is in jeopardy after Government officials axed a number of contracts Mr Atkinson runs at HMP Frankland for furniture repair. This includes a recycling contract that could have been worth in excess of £2m a year. Mr Atkinson has penned an open letter to Justice Minister Chris Grayling raising his concerns over the handling of the contract.
Last night he said: “I feel I’ve been totally misled at best.
“Their complete and utter refusal to discuss the issues and allow so many people to be made redundant and a contract of that value to be lost beggars belief.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are committed to achieving best value for money for the taxpayer, and providing work for prisoners is part of our commitment to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for life in the community. We only terminate contracts as a last resort and when we believe there is no alternative. With regret the decision was taken to terminate our contract with New Life Industries.”