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School builder on brink of collapse as inflation hammers developers

Construction UK
Construction UK

One of Britain’s biggest school builders is on the brink of collapse as high inflation and a squeeze on public spending batter the property market.

Geoffrey Osborne, a family-owned contractor currently working on dozens of projects, has filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators as it battles to find a buyer.

The company employs around 90 staff and has been responsible for building the backbone of Britain, including £10bn worth of schools, hospitals and homes over the past 60 years.

Osborne specialises in school building and has worked on more than 50 school and university projects over the past five years.

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This includes the £50m overhaul of St Paul’s School and several new classrooms across the country.

The company also installed the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
Geoffrey Osborne installed the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in 2004 - Jason Hawkes/Getty Images Europe

Osborne said “significant impacts” such as high inflation and a slowdown in public spending plus the lingering effects of the pandemic and Brexit had hammered the company.

Andrew Osborne, chairman, said: “Everyone in the construction industry knows the challenges of the past few years and Osborne has worked hard to continue to deliver projects.

“Our management team has done everything possible to look after our people and protect suppliers, while seeking to trade through the economic headwinds.

“While today’s decision to move towards administration is a last resort, it is now the right thing to do while we continue to seek external investment.”

Osborne is working with advisers from RSM to try and find a buyer to stave off collapse.

The intention to appoint administrators, filed at the High Court on Thursday evening, comes after an 18-month restructuring plan to keep the construction company afloat.

Three businesses have been sold off over this period, including Osborne’s property development arm.

Proceeds from the sales have been reinvested in the construction arm but Osborne said losses on legacy projects had undermined the hard work and hampered its ability to win new contracts.

Osborne has an initial ten days to find a buyer. This can roll over the intent to administrators several times, giving the company more breathing space.

Staff will be paid as normal in the meantime.

Aside from education, Osborne has also been responsible for renovating several important buildings.

Recently it helped restore the Grade II listed Hackney Town Hall and was also behind the redevelopment of Chichester Festival Theatre.

Geoffrey Osborne was founded by the civil engineer of the same name in 1966. The Osborne family remain the group’s shareholders since its founder died in 2005.