March 2, 2012

Like some small brave semi-aquatic rodent setting out from its riverbank home on an early morning forage, Bath-based hire fleet ownership specialist Hellfire, this week described its mood as ‘cautious but optimistic’ after reporting a pre-tax statutory loss (inclusive of exceptional items) of £6m.

Hellfire Group MD Marty Wart said the loss was mostly due to people failing to keep their hire cars long enough. “Help hire lengths are down,” Post Magazine reported Mr Wart as saying, “and that is attributable to operating losses.” This, presumably is the exact opposite of what he actually meant to say – but you get the general idea.

Previously reported accounting errors now reckoned to be attributable to a not insignificant £29m inevitably came up, but the prudential Mr Wart was ready with some kind of metaphorical bat or paddle with which he was ideally equipped for “batting away” any such suggestions, commenting simply: “We have dealt.”

Despite what Hellfire has described as a “challenging environment” due to “commercial pressures as well as legal and political scrutiny, including the impending ban on referral fees in relation to personal injury cases and the Office of Fair Trading’s review of the effect of credit hire on insurance premiums”, the firm can point to successes in reducing debt from £250m in 2009 to £135m, reducing working capital from £200m to £70m and laying off a load of staff.

All of which was attributable to delight for Mr Wart, when the group’s bankers recently agreed to give them an extra year (up to December 2013) in which to sort themselves out.

“It demonstrates support for the business,” Mr Wart explained, “in that the bankers have confidence in the business.”

This is Bath reported that redundancy and contract termination fees were attributable to £1m of Hellfire’s losses, adding that right sizing initiatives were attributable to the termination of 80 employees at Hellfire’s Pinesgate office on the Lower Bristol Road.

“Sorry for the people whose jobs are at risk,” opined one visitor to the This is Bath website, “but this is a grim company to work for by all accounts, and one based on a somewhat unsustainable business model.”

Another joked: “Perhaps when we used to rename the Hellfire stand at rugby the Hellfire stand, it was more than just a play on phonics, if the staff experience is as stated!”

Bankstone News has absolutely no idea what that last one’s on about.


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