Wrightbus hoping to help JTI staff as it wins new London contract
The boss of Ballymena transport company Wrightbus has pledged to do all he can for workers at the nearby JTI factory who are expected to lose their jobs in 2016.
Wrightbus chief executive Mark Nodder was speaking as the firm announced that Transport for London is to order 200 new Routemasters, to be delivered in two years' time.
Around 200 staff work on the red double-deckers, championed by the Mayor of London and nicknamed the 'Boris Bus' in his honour, at a chassis facility in Antrim and the main assembly plant in Ballymena.
Wrightbus said the price of the order is being negotiated. There are 300 of the low-emission vehicles already on the streets of London.
While no new jobs are to be created as a result of the order, Mr Nodder said that he hoped that with the popularity of the bus and the growing global reputation of the firm, further expansion could not be ruled out.
And he said he hoped that in future, Wrightbus could assist workers from neighbouring firm JTI - formerly Gallaher's - which last month announced it is to close its Galgorm cigarette factory in 2016 with the loss of over 800 jobs.
"We currently have 200 people on two production lines working on the new Routemaster, and now that we are getting an order for 200 more, we are delighted that they will be working those lines for longer," he said.
"The bus has been a fantastic success story in London."
He said passenger numbers were up on the buses, adding: "Like the black taxi or the red post box, the bus is a modern icon which can be found on postcards sent all over the world and represents the rejuvenation of transport on the streets of London.
"While the buses were commissioned by the current mayor, whose term ends in 2016, we hope his successor will share his vision."
He said the deal had positioned the company well for the future.
"We are seen as a major player in London. It enhances our reputation as an innovator in the industry - we have fulfilled the dreams of transport planners and now our reputation goes before us all over the world."
He added: "Hopefully we can take the London passenger experience to other cities both at home and abroad."
Mr Nodder said Ballymena firms were keen to rally round the workers of JTI. "It is still early days but the local business community remains shocked by the JTI announcement," he said. "We'll be doing our best as a large employer to engage with all the relevant stakeholders to see how we can contribute to the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ballymena.
"We have an open mind but we are an ambitious company and we are always looking to grow our business, if at all possible, using local staff from within the borough and existing home base of the company."
He said that if Wrightbus' success with Transport for London continues, "we can create new business opportunities and in that case we would be very interested in aligning with the former workers of JTI".
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of trade body Manufacturing NI, said that the order shows that world class products continue to be exported from the region.