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Carillion: The sound of silence

Since Carillion’s collapse 17 days ago, precious little information has come out about what will happen next.

Subcontractors and suppliers have expressed frustration about being in limbo over the state of monies owed (which most don’t expect to recover) and when stopped projects might restart.

A lot of this frustration has been directed at the special managers of the liquidation, PwC, with which some have said communication is poor to non-existent.

To try and find out what’s actually going on, Construction News travelled to Carillion’s nerve centre, as business minister Andrew Griffiths put it, in Wolverhampton.

Google Maps lists Carillion’s HQ, a surprisingly modest headquarters for a once-£4bn+ annual turnover multi-national enterprise, on the western edge of the city centre as ‘permanently closed’.

But on a very gloomy Wednesday morning, workers still enter the low-rise, brown office block.

I asked to speak to some of them for a couple of minutes to see if they could shed any light on events. Unsurprisingly, all declined.

As the clock hit half-nine and the trickle of workers dried up, I moved to a cafe less than a minute’s walk from the office.

The manager, Penny, told me that little was known in the city about what was happening, even among the Carillion staff. “I asked one lady who comes in here for breakfast every Friday what was happening, and she said ‘you probably know as much as I do’”.

A taxi driver, who said he ferried people to and from the Carillion offices regularly, told me his passengers had been unusually tight-lipped about things.

“People usually tell me about anything,” he said. “But none of them [passengers from Carillion] talk about what’s going on.”

Later, I briefly meet with a woman who turned out to be closely linked to the company.

“My husband works there,” she said. I asked if she would mind chatting about the situation for a couple of minutes.

She hesitated. 

“No. I shouldn’t say anything,” and she walked off.

People being reluctant to talk to journalists isn’t strange (sadly). But I was told it was unusual for people living in Wolverhampton not to chat about things.

A woman named Lizzy who runs a community cafe close to the firm’s offices said: “Everyone wants to know everyone else’s business in Wolverhampton. And usually they’re happy to tell it.

“It’s weird how no one’s talking about it.”

There were suggestions that orders not to talk had come down from on high in Carillion. And there were other, more outlandish rumours doing the rounds, too.

Therein lies the problem with silence.

The longer it lasts, the more rumours tend to fill the void, and the frustration and anger continues to grow.

Lizzy said that one of her customers told her she had been instructed to keep going to work at Carillion as normal, but with no guidance on how long ‘normal’ will last.

“They just want to know what’s going to happen,” Lizzy told me.

So do the rest of us.

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