Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: Owners 'devastated' as Ballymena firm enters administration with 1,200 jobs lost

Only 50 jobs are retained by the company after it entered administration

Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

The owners of Wrightbus have said they are "devastated" after the firm entered administration on Wednesday, with the immediate loss of 1,200 jobs.

Directors at the maker of the so-called ‘Boris bus’ had been in talks with companies including Chinese giant Weichai and entrepreneur Jo Bamford - whose family owns equipment giant JCB - about a sale.

The Wrightbus co-founder Sir William Wright
The Wrightbus co-founder Sir William Wright

Negotiations about a potential takeover, however, appeared to stall last week, with the amount of rent to be paid on the company’s premises believed to be a stumbling block.

Hundreds of devastated staff turned up to the Ballymena factory on Wednesday to be told they were no longer required.

Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The Wright family, who established the firm in 1946, blamed the collapse on global changes from diesel to electric buses causing a drop in demand.

In a statement, they said they attempted to secure jobs in Ballymena by moving work from their Malaysia facility back to the Co Antrim town.

"These factors have resulted in significant losses at Wrightbus which our family has been covering for over a year," they explained.

"This was undertaken to both protect the workforce and the engineering expertise in the company. It simply became impossible to sustain that level of support.

"We have worked hard to support the restructuring team based in Wrightbus, and we are confident that a buyer for the business can still be found."

Michael Magnay and Peter Allen of professional services firm Deloitte have been appointed as joint administrators to the business and they confirmed the company will be retaining 50 of its 1,250 employees at this time.

Metal cases for tools are wheeled from the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)
Metal cases for tools are wheeled from the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)

North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said that he expected that under administration, all staff will be paid up until last week.

“All get statutory redundancy and if they want paid for this week they have to claim against company assets," he said.

“My hope is that a buyer comes in quickly and rehires two-thirds of them.”

A completed Bus Eireann bus leaves the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, on the day the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses goes into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.
A completed Bus Eireann bus leaves the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, on the day the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses goes into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.

The Wright family said they hope that work at the factory will return in the future.

“Since it was established in 1946 from a tin shed, Wrightbus has become a world leader in bus manufacture and technology, employing tens of thousands of people," they said.

"The company has built a culture and tradition of expertise and innovation in the Ballymena area which is recognised across the globe.

Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, unveils a life-size mock-up of the new hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus for London (Lewis Whyld/PA)
Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, unveils a life-size mock-up of the new hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus for London (Lewis Whyld/PA)

"The production of the world-famous London Routemaster is just one example of the many achievements of the firm and we are hopeful that a new buyer will be found and that work at the factory can continue.”

Footage from the outside the factory on Wednesday shows scores of staff leaving, with many carrying their tools.

The loss of jobs is a major setback for Ballymena, which has lost two other major employers, JTI Gallaher’s and Michelin, in recent years.

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