Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus rescue bid: Jo Bamford says Jeff Wright asked for 'significantly higher sum of money'

Wrong to suggest family created sale barriers, says Jeff Wright

George Bash of Unite talks to the Wrightbus workforce.
George Bash of Unite talks to the Wrightbus workforce.
Former Wrightbus Workers wait at the gates of the factory in Ballymena waiting for news to see if the factory has been saved. Photo by Peter Morrison

By Jonathan Bell and Mark Bain

Industrialist Jo Bamford has said his offer to buy Wrightbus and the associated land was rejected and a request for a "significantly higher sum of money" made.

He said he wanted to save the business and put it on a sustainable footing.

"But regrettably if this offer is not agreed today, we understand that the business will go into liquidation tomorrow,” he said in his first statement on the matter.

Trade union Unite has claimed £1.5million is needed to complete the deal, a claim dismissed by the Wright family as "wrong and inaccurate".

Mr Bamford, whose family owns construction equipment company JCB, said: “At 10am this morning I made an offer to the Wright family to match the asking price for the Wrightbus factory and land.

"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."

Responding Mr Wright said: "Mr Bamford was advised on Friday, October 4, that any deal would include the entire premises at  Galgorm including the factory, fixtures and fittings. These were available for lease or purchase. Mr Bamford  sought to gain unrelated additional farmlands  which were not for sale.  It is important to note that no other bidder sought at any time to link the farmlands to the business purchase.

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"Mr Bamford, as his statement confirms, did not deal with these matters until 10am this morning, Thursday October, 10. In his response he insisted he would not proceed with the deal unless the  farmlands were included.

"Mr Wright does not recognise the explanation provided by Mr Bamford as to why he failed to conclude the purchase of the business.”

Earlier trade union Unite said a deal had been agreed in principle on Wednesday, October 9.

"It is not dead in the water, it's hanging by a thread," Unite official George Brash said.

Former Wrightbus director Jeff Wright said it was wrong to suggest he or his family had created barriers to a deal through their land holdings.

He said a sticking point in the talks was his family farmland which he did not consider part of the factory site.

He said administrator Deloittes would continue to have the family's support and co-operation urging them to "put their energies into delivering a deal by working with the remaining bidders to secure the future of Wrightbus and the jobs in Ballymena".

Secretary of State Julian Smith said space was needed to allow for a deal to be made after he talked with the administrators.

Jim Allister MLA suggested the nearby vacant Michelin could be used as an alternative location for the factory.

He added: "The mood has darkened but when there's talk there's hope. For the sake of hundreds of jobs they should do the decent thing and get the deal done."

In a statement shortly after the 10am deadline passed on Thursday, October 10, Mr Wright said "exhaustive efforts" had been made to get a deal and save the company from liquidation.

"For the record the entire premises at Galgorm including the factory, fixtures and fittings as well as the land was agreed to be made available to all bidders, either to lease or purchase," he said.

"While each and every one of the bidders agreed terms Mr Bamford sought to gain unrelated additional farmlands owned by my family.

"These farmlands, which have restricted use,  were bought through a mortgage and were not at any time a part of the Wrightbus business.  What ambitions Mr Bamford or his associates may have had for our farmland is not clear, but it would be a mistake to conflate his farmland interests with his failure to complete on the Wrightbus deal and its associated lands."

He continued: "I hope that Deloittes have not been side-tracked by the Bamford engagement and can now put their energies into delivering a deal by working with the remaining bidders to secure the future of Wrightbus and the jobs in Ballymena.”

Mr Wright also called for MP Ian Paisley to allow those involved in the talks to be allowed to complete their negotiations. He said his tying the farmland issue to the business arrangements was "unhelpful".

Responding Mr Paisley said he was "concentrating on helping wherever I can bring a deal to a close and safeguarding the jobs and futures of workers in Ballymena".

Workers gathered at the Galgorm site on Thursday morning ahead of the expected announcement.

Earlier Mr Paisley told BBC Radio Ulster: “There’s no second chances here – you can’t do this again on Friday or Saturday – this is the decision day.

“Either it’s the continuation of the building of the best buses produced in the world, or it’s the end of bus building in Ballymena.

Mr Paisley said Jo Bamford was the one exclusive bidder and his deal had been accepted by the bank and the administrator.

He said the deal created more jobs, developed the site and would develop new technology by the company.

"It writes a new chapter in what has been a brilliant story up until this blip," he added.

"It is something which should be grasped with both hands."

Around 1,200 staff lost their jobs two weeks ago when the company went into administration, but it's expected "hundreds" would be redeployed if a deal is done.

But the company could be liquidated if a deal isn't done by 10am today.

Mr Paisley said there was only one outstanding issue left in talks, the potential sale of the land where Wrightbus is based.

"It is no secret Jo Bamford has made this commitment ... to move here and make this situation work," he continued.

"It would be awful for that to be thrown back in his face.

"If we are asking someone to buy a stake in the province, to invest tens of millions of pounds, I think they are entitled to own an asset."

Administrators from advisory firm Deloitte were appointed to Wrightbus two weeks ago with the loss of 1,200 jobs after cash flow problems arising from trading difficulties.

Wrightbus rented the land from Whirlwind Property 2, which is owned by Wrightbus chief shareholder Jeff Wright.

Mr Bamford had been in talks over a purchase of the company before it went into administration, but was reported to have walked away before a deal could be done.

He was in Ballymena on Wednesday for talks with the administrators but left at 5pm without a deal for the land being reached.

His business Ryse Hydrogen has already worked with Wrightbus on a project to make hydrogen-fuelled buses for Transport for London.

Trade unions have urged Mr Wright to "do the right thing".

Mr Paisley said Mr Bamford envisaged a “leaner” operation at Wrightbus if successful in taking it over, but he said hundreds of jobs would still be created.

“It’s critical and everyone needs to come together and put their shoulder to wheel to get this over the line one way or the other.”

The Wright family has insisted it has acted reasonably throughout the sales process.

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