Hawick knitwear firm fears PPF decision puts more than 170 Borderers’ jobs at risk

TALKS were ongoing to find a way forward for threatened cashmere company Dawson International as TheSouthern went to press yesterday.

The textiles operator owns the cashmere knitwear company Barrie in Hawick which employs 170-180 people locally.

And last week Dawson’s bid to put its pension plans in a protection fund failed, throwing the future of the group in doubt.

Group finance director David Cooper told TheSouthern this week: “We are continuing to engage with the [pensions plan’s] trustees and regulators. It’s clearly difficult to say anything while these talks are ongoing. The fact that we are talking is obviously a good thing and, of course, one is always hopeful.

But he continued: “These are difficult times. To me, the key thing is that whatever the outcome we need to absolutely make sure that we do everything we can to protect all jobs here in Hawick.”

He was unable to estimate when there would a conclusion, adding: “It’s really very difficult to say. I would like to be more positive, but clearly these are very difficult discussions we are having.”

Dawson warned on Friday it could be forced into administration unless it agreed a payment scheme on its £50million pension deficit with the firm’s 3,200 pensioners, who include former Borders employees.

It said the collapse of negotiations to have its pension fund put into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) put the firm’s 200 remaining employees at risk.

In a statement on Friday morning, Dawson said it was disappointed and that it would enter into discussions with the plan’s trustees and the Pensions Regulator “to determine what its options are”.

Shares in the business fell by more than 45 per cent following the announcement.

Borders MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore told us: “This is a very worrying development for the employees of Barrie Knitwear and former Dawson employees. My absolute priority is the jobs of the people at Barrie and the families who are affected by this and we now must make sure none of the steps taken are against the interests of the workforce.

“The key is that they get more from a restructuring of the Dawson Group than they could have got from the proposals put to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) – i.e. it’s key that an efficient world-class company like Barrie is sold on to somebody who can pay a good price and continue to make a profit. It’s in everybody’s interest that Barrie continues.”

This week, the Leeds Group, one of Dawson’s main investors, said it had offered to “guarantee a proposed fundraising amongst existing shareholders”.

In a statement, Leeds said: “We cannot see the rationale whereby PPF turn down an offer which will clearly give more than insolvency value and in addition will not put a lot of jobs at risk.

“The board of Leeds Group cannot see the rationale behind the PPF reasoning as it is very likely that UK taxpayers now have to pick up a larger bill.”

The 140-year-old textile group once employed 12,000 people and owned the iconic Borders companies, Pringle of Scotland and Ballantyne Cashmere.

Last year, Dawson sold its bed linen business for £6million, its third disposal in two years, in an attempt to help the pensions deficit.

That left the company with only its Barrie knitwear manufacturing business and its US section sourcing cashmere garments from China.

Local MSP John Lamont described the failure to reach a deal with the PPF as deeply regrettable.

He told us: “Dawson International is a strong company and could continue to be a very profitable business if this difficulty could be overcome.

“The priority must be to secure the 200 jobs that Dawson provides. I sincerely hope that this does not spell the end for these jobs and that the Pensions Regulator and Protection Fund re-open negotiations. Common sense must prevail.”

Dawson disposed of Pringle of Scotland in 2000 to the Fang Brothers, who closed the Hawick mill with a loss of 80 knitwear workers’ jobs in 2008.

And it sold Ballantyne Cashmere which employed 220 people, mostly at Caerlee Mill in Innerleithen, in 2004.