Belfast Telegraph

Jim Flanagan: War of words a cause for anxiety but workers still hope for a deal

Jeff Wright
Jeff Wright

By Jim Flanagan

The chances of saving the Wrightbus company in Ballymena appear to have been dealt a major blow by yesterday's extraordinary war of words between the two main parties.

Yesterday's 10am deadline for a deal to be rubberstamped came and went without any meeting of minds between Jeff Wright, who owns the land on which the factory is sited and the exclusive bidder for the company, Jo Bamford.

As well as attempting to buy the Wrightbus operating business from the administrator, Mr Bamford also needs to a strike a deal with Mr Wright for the land on which the factory sits.

As many of the 1,200 workers congregated outside the Galgorm factory gates desperately hoping for a positive outcome, Mr Wright released a lengthy statement attempting to explain why a deal had not been concluded.

Mr Wright accused Mr Bamford of seeking to acquire family farmland unrelated to the Wrightbus business.

Mr Wright said he had been willing to sell the factory and associated lands, but the issue of dispute involved unrelated farmlands belonging to his family.

At lunchtime, Mr Bamford responded by confirming that at 10am he had made an offer to the Wright family to match the asking price for the Wrightbus factory and land.

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"This includes a sum to match the amount that the factory and associated land was purchased for two years ago from JTI. Mr Wright has since refused this offer and has now asked for a significantly higher sum of money."

Mr Bamford said he wished to save the business and put it on a sustainable footing and claimed if the offer was not agreed, he understood the business would go into liquidation.

The public spat between the two principals appears to have impeded the chances of a deal, much to the annoyance of the workers and local political representatives who appealed for coolheads to prevail.

Last night, it seemed Mr Bamford was still interested in concluding a deal for the company, but time is of the essence.

Union representatives urged both parties to concentrate on the bigger picture of saving jobs in Ballymena and urged them to compromise on the land issue in order to get a deal over the line.

Workers desperate for a successful outcome could only look on at developments with dismay.

They were clinging to the hope that while the two sides were still talking, some sort of compromise might emerge to save the day.

Jim Flanagan is a former Belfast Telegraph deputy editor and Ballymena Guardian editor

Belfast Telegraph