Carillion’s former finance director, Zafar Khan, has denied being “asleep at the wheel” during his time in the role.
The construction giant, which provided services for schools, hospitals and prisons, went into liquidation in the middle of January. Mr Khan was not working for the company when it collapsed, having been sacked last September. But he told the Work and Pensions Committee:
I believe I did everything that I could have done.
He added: “As soon as I came into the role, we were looking to tackle the issues. The key focus of my time in the role was to bring net debt down.” In a stormy committee session, Mr Khan also said he “spooked the board” when he reviewed the company’s contracts. But former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane has told MPs that was not the reason for Mr Khan’s dismissal. Mr Cochrane accepted that Mr Khan’s findings were correct but told the committee: “Our concern was whether he was fully on top of all the cashflow arrangements and close to what was actually happening.” Mr Cochrane added that Mr Khan’s dismissal happened at the same time as other senior management changes.
Earlier in the session, Mr Cochrane, who only took charge last July, said he was “truly sorry” about the company’s collapse. “It was the worst possible outcome. This was a business worth fighting for. That’s what I sought to do during my time as chief executive,” he said. The previous chief executive Richard Howson ran the company for six years before stepping down after a profit warning. Carillion employed 43,000 people, including around 20,000 in the UK. This month alone, more than 800 job losses have been announced and Mr Cochrane said:
Do I wish we’d done something about it sooner? Absolutely.
Clearly with the benefit of hindsight should the board have been asking further, more probing questions? Perhaps.