Robinson firm forced to take out £70m loan

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Indy Politics

An engineering company founded by Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster-general, has been forced to take out a mortgage of almost £70m after it announced a loss of more than £5m in the first half of this year.

An engineering company founded by Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster-general, has been forced to take out a mortgage of almost £70m after it announced a loss of more than £5m in the first half of this year.

It emerged last month that shares in TransTec plc, which started life as a small limited company called Transfer Technology, had fallen by 85 per cent since 1996. Now the firm, in which Mr Robinson is still the largest investor, has arranged a loan of £69,167,000 through the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Documents confirming the mortgage were lodged at Companies House last week.

Although Mr Robinson joked recently that he was not yet on the breadline, the news of his company's troubles will not be welcome. He is also personally responsible for keeping afloat the New Statesman magazine, which he owns, and recently sold one of his two Lutyens mansions for £4m.

The former minister estimated the value of his 16 per cent share in TransTec at £20m in 1996, but now it is believed to be worth around £5.3m. In 1996 he said he owned property worth around £10m, including the two mansions, a luxury flat in Cannes and an estate in Italy.

Although it is not clear how much Mr Robinson is now worth, it is known that he inherited £12.75m from a Belgian entrepreneur called Joska Bourgeois and a further substantial sum from a family business, a furniture company called William Barrett. Part of this fortune is held in a Guernsey-based offshore trust.

Mr Robinson cut his business teeth in posts such as the chief executive of Jaguar and as managing director of Leyland Innocenti during the early Seventies, and started Transfer Technology after becoming an MP in 1976. The company aimed to harness technology devised by academics to produce business successes.

It was in the early Nineties that the firm took off, however, after a "reverse take-over" in 1990 by Central and Sheerwood, an industrial and property conglomerate formerly chaired by Robert Maxwell. Mr Maxwell effectively absorbed Transfer Technology into Central and Sheerwood, paying £5.5m for the deal, then changed the name of the company to TransTec.

The company continues to own a number of engineering firms which were formerly owned by Mr Maxwell. It has recently sold some of its subsidiaries, including Lock Inspection Systems and an American firm called Roll Center which were the subject of parliamentary inquiries into whether Mr Robinson had properly registered his interests.

Neither Mr Robinson nor any representative of TransTec was available for comment yesterday. However, Mr Robinson recently told a journalist from the local paper in his Coventry North-West constituency that his main concern was that jobs were at risk because of the fall in TransTec's share price. The company, which employs 5,000 people, has shed more than 600 jobs recently. However, Mr Robinson joked: "I can still afford to buy you a cup of tea. I'm all right."

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