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Profits plunge by 86% at Ballymena bus giant Wrights



Wrightbus chief executive and chairman Mark Nodder

Wrightbus chief executive and chairman Mark Nodder

Wrightbus chief executive and chairman Mark Nodder

Ballymena bus giant the Wrights Group has declared an 86% collapse in its pre-tax profits during 2017.

Four months after announcing 95 redundancies at its Wrightbus plant, citing low levels of demand, the company has revealed the performance of its finances across the group last year.

After posting pre-tax profits of £10.7m for 2016, consolidated accounts for the group showed a £9.2m slump to £1.5m for the 12 months to December 31, 2017.

The accounts, which include five UK-based subsidiaries and four overseas-based entities, reported turnover of £227.2m for 2017. It compares to £264.4m for 2016, a difference of £37.2m (14%).

A total of 190 redundancies announced at Wrightbus this year marked the latest blow for Ballymena after the closure of tobacco giant JTI and tyre firm Michelin.

However, when taken alone, the results for the Wrights Group's Ballymena bus-making enterprise were more positive than for the group as a whole. Wrightbus Ltd makes up nearly 80% of the entire group's turnover. Although its £181.3m turnover for 2017 was well down on the £214.6m it reported in the previous 12 months, pre-tax profits held at £5m in 2017, albeit £1m down on 2016.

"Our 2017 results have to be seen in the context of challenges in both the UK and our overseas markets," group finance director Kirsty McBride said yesterday.

"We experienced a change in the mix in our UK business in 2017," she continued, adding that there had been "significant one-off costs in our overseas subsidiaries, coupled with the completion of the primary revenue generating contract in Singapore".

"Notwithstanding the anticipated reduction in profit for 2017, the group continued to invest strongly in research and development to safeguard our ability to continue to compete in markets worldwide in the long-term, with expenditure in 2017 standing at nearly £5m. All of this spend continues to be written off against profit in the years in which it is incurred, in line with our cautious accounting policy," she said.

Ms McBride said when consolidated, the group's balance sheet remains "exceptionally strong", with net assets of over £42m and no significant long-term debt. Accounts filed for 2016 give a workforce of 1,861, but the firm has not disclosed its present headcount.

Mark Nodder, the group's chairman and chief executive, said "significant strides" had been taken to open up new international markets.

He said: "Our continued investment in new driveline technology places us at the forefront of building the best bus for the 21st century and our move to a new 90-acre site in Ballymena has given us an industry leading production facility.

"Our core strengths remain in place and, while 2018 has proved to be an even more challenging year from a financial perspective, group-wide we remain in a good position to take full advantage of the upturn in the market when trading conditions improve."

Manufacturing NI chief Stephen Kell said it was one of our most important manufacturers.

He said: "They are a very visible symbol of our engineering excellence in markets at home and abroad.

"Given unwelcome news in north Antrim in the past few years, the success of Wrightbus continues to send a strong message about the health of our manufacturing community. Their contribution to jobs and wages mean we have strong local economies where people want to contribute to their community."