Is Britishvolt two timing Blyth?

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On Valentine’s day this month Britishvolt, the investor for the proposed ‘Gigaplant’ car battery manufacturing development for Blyth, professed its love for Northumberland in a Facebook post. The ‘post’ featured in a previous North East Bylines article highlighting the company’s changed affections from its earlier avowed intentions to locate the facility in Wales. The day after, on 15 February, Italvolt announced its plans in a press release for a new 4 billion Euro ‘Gigafactory’ to be built in an as yet undecided location in Italy.

The similarity in company name is perhaps not surprising as they were both founded by the same Swedish businessman, Lars Carlstrom. Britishvolt was listed at Companies House on 31 December 2019 and Italvolt on 21 December 2020, just days after the BBC reported: “The co-founder and chairman of the company aiming to build the UK’s first electric car battery ‘gigaplant’ has quit after it emerged he was convicted of tax fraud in Sweden. Britishvolt’s Lars Carlstrom said he stepped down to avoid becoming ‘a distraction’ to the project in Blyth, Northumberland.”       

Carlstrom, may still be an ‘individual person with significant control’ of Britishvolt, as he continues to be listed as a person who has between 25% and 50% of the shares and of the voting rights in the company.

Only in existence for two months, and with share capital of £1,000, Italvolt has a registered address in Coventry which belongs to a small firm’s assistance company which advertises:

“Your UK Limited Company can use our Coventry Registered Office Address for either six months or a year for as a little as £35 + vat…Do you want to give the impression your company is larger than it really is? By using our registered office address and your own address as a trading address it gives the impression that you operate from two locations.”

It also notes that for UK companies owned by overseas residents such as Carlstrom, it is a legal requirement to have a UK registered address where official government mail can be sent. It is worth noting that such arrangements are, of course, perfectly legal but maybe surprising for a company which in the press release boasts a “team of highly skilled engineers and technicians”and intends to build “one of the most important industrial projects in Italy in recent years, for a total investment of approximately 4 billion euros.” Yes, the language is similar to the promises made first to Wales and then to Blyth, but each time the size of the proposed investment seems to have increased.

The Italvolt press release caused a stir in the automotive and Italian media with speculation as to where Italvolt’s ‘Gigafactory’ would be located, with the billions of Euros and thousands of jobs which would flow into the lucky local economy.  An Italian video by local FoxTech Channel excitedly touted the desirability to Italvolt of locating in Sicily with the attendant benefits of sunshine, solar power and a willing labour-force. The video notes that it is the British Industrialist Lars Calstrom, of the ‘boys full of money’, the founder of Britishvolt who is behind the development and will be self-financing the investment.

However, Sicily has not only experienced an eruption of Mount Etna this week, but has suffered a blow from the announcement on F\18 February that Italvolt is to locate the new ‘Gigafactory’ near Turin In Northern Italy, and not in Sicily.   

The development is to be on the abandoned Olivetti di Scarmagno site and was said to have been selected by Italvolt for its particularly favourable technical characteristics and geographical location.  The Forbes article notes that Carlstrom, who claims to have seeded €5 million to found Italvolt, states “We have not entered into any public funding of Italvolt. We are independent and transparent, and there will be a discussion about public funds at some point.”

The Italvolt website notes that the company proposing the investment is ‘Italvolt SpA’ an Italian start-up. This suggests a separation from the UK listed Italvolt and which, in order to have the SpA designation, needs a minimum capital of a €120,000.00. Società per Azioni (S.p.A. or SpA) is a form of corporation in Italy, meaning “company with shares”. As Italvolt SpA is an apparent substantial Italian corporate listing, the purpose of listing Italvolt Ltd in the UK two months ago with a share capital of £1,000 remains a bit of a mystery.  

Concern that Britishvolt may be two-timing Blyth would seem, therefore, to be misplaced and that having dumped Wales and started a ‘world leading Gigafactory’ relationship with Blyth, Carlstrom is able to accommodate a parallel and equally superlative endeavour with Milan.

And where will his next vault take him? He has two further ‘Volt’ companies which were listed at Companies House in 2020, Icevolts and Supravolts, one hopes his next step will not be a ‘volte-face’ for Blyth. 

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