Debt-collectors hound schools to recoup cash

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Mike Prestage on how an office supply firm's liquidation has put teachers' jobs at risk

Schools in the north of England have been left with pound;300,000 of debt following the collapse of Warrington-based office supply company ECK.

The schools, which hired photocopiers and closed circuit televisions through ECK, are fighting off finance companies anxious to recover the missing money.

Individual schools owe up to pound;25,000 and this could lead to job losses, or in the case of charity-run special schools, fewer places for vulnerable pupils.

At least 15 schools in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire agreed to take ECK equipment, with the promise that existing office equipment debts would be paid off by the firm. Last week, however, ECK, trading with a new name and owner, went into receivership. Many of the debts, owed to different suppliers and leasing firms remain unpaid.

Cheshire County Council says six of its primary schools are involved, including Dorin Park, a special school for children with physical and learning difficulties. It owes pound;20,000.

None of the schools is willing to comment, but a spokesman said the authority is taking legal advice on the finance companies' claims.

"It is a great worry and concern for the schools involved who are being faced with legal demands for such large amounts which will create havoc with schools budgets if they have to pay."

Another organisation left with major debts is the Boys and Girls Welfare Society based in Cheadle, Stockport. The society, the largest voluntary children's charity in the North-west, runs three schools for autistic children and a sixth-form for children with special needs and disabilities, as well as 12 residential homes caring for 2,500 children.

"For any charity, such a loss is a blow. Obviously that money could have gone toward education or residential needs for the children we care for," said Steve Mahon, director of the society's central services. The charity is taking legal advice.

Lancashire County Council confirmed it was involved, but said it was unable to comment, as the matter is still the subject of litigation.

ECK's liquidator is required to submit a report to the Department of Trade and Industry, on the conduct of directors under the provisions of the Company Directors Disqualification Act.

The liquidator, Bob Keating of RW Keating and Co, Warrington, held the first creditors'meeting last week. It could take three months for him to complete his report.

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