Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: Son of JCB boss back in running to secure deal

Wrightbus workers and families hold a meeting at Ballymena Showgrounds yesterday
Wrightbus workers and families hold a meeting at Ballymena Showgrounds yesterday
Jo Bamford
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Entrepreneur Jo Bamford is in talks to buy collapsed bus company Wrightbus after walking away from a deal two weeks ago.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that Mr Bamford and his company Ryse Hydrogen are back in talks with administrators about a potential purchase of the firm, which collapsed a week ago with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

Trade union Unite claimed four parties in total have expressed an interest in the business. Two visited the premises yesterday and another is due today.

Speaking on Tuesday, DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said there had been two "credible" bids - and it's understood Ryse Hydrogen is one.

A spokesman for the hydrogen fuel company said it would be making "no comment" on whether a deal was on the cards.

But it's understood it's already considering a strategy for making an announcement if or when a deal is done.

Ryse has already worked with Wrightbus on a contract with Transport for London to convert buses to hydrogen fuel.

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Business advisory firm Deloitte was appointed administrators of the family firm a week ago with the immediate loss of 1,200 jobs - leaving a skeleton workforce of just 50 people. Deloitte yesterday said it would not be commenting on the process of finding a buyer.

Mr Paisley said yesterday that "momentum" was building for a deal.

The BBC reported that two were from the EU, one from the UK and one from China.

While a purchase price of £50m had been mooted before the administration, it's expected that any sale would be for a lower sum.

Talks over a purchase with Mr Bamford two weeks ago floundered - while talks with another buyer, Chinese company Weichai, also collapsed.

It's understood Wrightbus's majority shareholder Jeff Wright had been negotiating rent of £1m a year as part of talks with Weichai, a factor in the collapse of the bid.

The Wrightbus premises are owned by the Wright family in a separate ownership arrangement to the main Wrightbus companies which are in administration.

Mr Wright could not be reached for comment yesterday on any talks with potential buyers this week.

Yesterday, trade union Unite held a mass meeting of its members formerly employed in Wrightbus who have now been made redundant.

Hundreds of workers and their families attended the event in the main stand of the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Tomorrow the union will lead an even bigger demonstration, marching with workers from their offices in Ballymena to the company premises.

Unite official George Brash said the union had met administrators yesterday.

He said: "The meeting was positive and our demand was quite clear.

"There seems to be an issue with the land and we call on Jeff Wright to give the land back to the people of Ballymena.

"The workers have always remained upbeat and dignified and they want to get back to work.

"We want them to get back to work and there shouldn't be any barriers to that.

"They are highly skilled workers and they shouldn't be lost to the scrapheap," he said.

Belfast Telegraph