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Underground, overground

The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.

The sale of 22 branches of Burdens to Wolseley raises almost as many questions as it answers.

Yes, those 22 branches, the employees associated with them, the key accounts personnel – both on a regional and a national level – and the central services people have transferred to ‘Burdens: a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wolseley’.

But what of the rest of the WT Burden Group? That’s the question that our comments section on this website has been pondering. It’s the question that I’ve been asked and have asked more times in the last week than I can even count.

Actually, the question from suppliers goes a little further than a simple what’s happening. The question that suppliers want answered is this: “Are we going to get paid?”

Wolseley have bought the business -including the assets, the people and the brand. The purchase fits with what Wolseley md Steve Ashmore told me this time last year, namely that Wolseley intends to be in those markets – and those markets only – where it can be number one. Number two if it has to be. But number one for preference.

The purchase of Burdens means that Wolseley will have leading market presence in the whole range of pipe-related markets from the lighter end of plumbing and heating with Plumb Center, through the heavier stuff that Drain Center specialises in to the real, macho civil engineering expertise of its new Burdens business.

So far, so sensible. But Wolseley has bought assets, not debt. And that’s what suppliers want to know about.

Are they going to get paid? Who will they be paid by? And when? Quite understandably, the “new” Burdens business wants to get back to, well, business, and everyone there is keen to get trading. However, suppliers – equally understandably – want to know whether they can get their hands on some of that £30m and settle the bills.

According to Construction News, there may well be more depot sales to come and this was never going to be one of those situations that is sorted out easily and quickly.

The refinancing earlier this year bought Burdens some time to sort stuff out. The £30m from Wolseley has, in theory, done the same. We’ll have to wait and see how this one pans out.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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