THE FUTURE of a Queen's Award-winning engineering company is uncertain after the collapse of a rescue deal left workers owed hundreds of pounds in unpaid wages. 

Bosses at the Fin Machine Company, in Seaham are now in talks over a proposed management buy-out (MBO) to save the firm which employs 115 skilled staff. 

Shortly before Christmas, the County Durham precision engineers, which hit cashflow problems earlier in the year, predicted new year cheer after it was bought from administration by US investors.

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This week, it slipped back into the hands of administrators when an affiliate of the American Industrial Acquisition Corporation (AIAC) decided to pull the plug on its planned investment. 

"The announcement from the US came as a bolt from the blue," said chief executive David Jennings, who is now spearheading efforts to safeguard the company set up in 1985.

Staff, who haven't been paid for the last two weeks, were devastated to hear this week that the company had been placed into administration for the second time in six months.

Despite being left out of pocket, some workers have offered to invest their own money in the latest rescue bid if it will help to secure the firm's long term future, The Northern Echo understands.

The management team is now working with administrator Edwin Kirker of  Kirker & Co and hope to agree a deal in the next two to four weeks.

If the MBO fails Mr Jennings admitted that the prospects for the company were "very poor" but last night he was optimistic that the bid had a "genuine chance of success."

Fin Machine designs and produces machinery and tools used to make components for the air conditioning and car industry.

It boasts a global client list, earning it the Queen's Award for Export in 1997.

Its 8,000sq metre headquarters, on Seaham Grange Industrial Estate, houses a highly-skilled research and development team which produces bespoke designs.

It went up for sale in September after funding problems hampered its ability to fulfil customer orders. The firm continued to trade while a buyer was sought, but about 50 staff lost their jobs.

The cut price sale to turnaround specialists AIAC appeared to herald a bright future.

The US-based group has not explained the sudden decision to walk away, but it's thought to have cooled interest after it became fully aware of the additional investment required to take Fin Machine forward.