Wrightbus set to land £60m deal for 200 London buses
Ballymena firm Wrightbus looks set to win a fresh order worth £60m for nearly 200 of its London Routemaster buses.
Transport for London (TfL) confirmed that its board had approved the financing of the order for the buses, a familiar sight on roads around Ballymena during the test-drive process.
Wrightbus employs around 1,500 people in Ballymena - and the confirmation of available finance will secure the jobs of those deployed on the Routemaster production lines. Around 800 have been driven onto London's streets so far.
But a spokeswoman for Wrightbus said she could not comment on the outcome of the board meeting.
Introducing the so-called 'Boris bus' onto London's streets has been a signature policy of London's flamboyant Mayor, Boris Johnson, whose tenure will come to an end in May.
But other mayoral candidates have indicated they are less favourably inclined towards the Routemaster. While Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith has not given a clear position, Labour Party candidate Sadiq Khan has said he would "freeze purchases" of the buses, to help save money.
And according to The Guardian, Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon has said Mr Johnson has been "obsessed with getting as many of them as possible on to London's roads before he leaves City Hall".
But Stephen Kelly, the chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the bus had "transformed public transport in London".
"It would be really unfortunate if this became an issue for the candidates vying to become mayor. It's a great product made by great people in a great company. And I'd be confident that as a product, it will stand head and shoulders above anything else."
He said mayoral candidates were seeking to stand apart from the incumbent but that it was "unfair" that the Routemaster was now part of political wrangling. "It's serving the residents and visitors to London extremely well, and once the election period is over, I'm sure it won't be as much of an issue."
Around 800 Routemasters have been built by Wrightbus though a spokeswoman for the firm would not say how many staff worked on the vehicle.
According to The Guardian, the price which Wrightbus has been able to command for the bus has been falling, from around £352,000 per bus at the start of the arrangement in 2009, to around £315,000.
But a spokeswoman for Wrightbus said: "Details of all of our contracts are commercially sensitive and confidential."
According to documents filed by TfL ahead of a board meeting yesterday, Wrightbus would have closed down its two Routemaster production lines if further orders were not secured.
But the agenda adds that even a small order of around 30 buses would be enough to keep production lines open. According to TfL, closure of the lines would increase the cost of any subsequent order due to the need to remobilise production".