Ballymena business that built ‘Boris bus’ seeks investors amid reports of financial difficulties
The Ballymena company that manufactured the 'Boris bus' has confirmed it is actively looking for new investors.
Wrightbus became synonymous with incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson's eight-year stint as Mayor of London after Transport for London ordered 1,000 Routemaster buses from the coachbuilder.
But now the Co Antrim business, which employs around 1,400 people, has drafted in professional services company Deloitte following reports that it is facing financial difficulties.
Sky News reported that annualised losses at the Wrights Group were currently running at around £15m, with the bus maker seeking a capital investment of at least £30m.
In a statement last night, the Wrights Group said: "As Wrightbus continues to expand its global customer base, there is increased complexity to tailor our products to the climate, territory and operating characteristics of our diverse customer base.
"To strengthen the company's ability to accelerate its development of these new technologies, Deloitte is working with the company to explore the potential of bringing on board an investor.
"This is to ensure the skills and talents of our Ballymena workforce continue to deliver cutting-edge transport vehicles to our customers near and far.
"The company continues to win new business and this is evident in the recent uptake of our zero-emission fuel cell vehicles bolstering a strong 2019 order book."
Trade union Unite, which represents workers in Wrightbus, last night called for an urgent meeting with the company.
Regional officer George Brash said the search for new investors had given rise to concerns among the workforce and the wider Ballymena community.
"Unite is seeking an urgent meeting with the company to address the genuine concerns which today's news reports have raised for our members. The workforce in Wrightbus deserves full transparency," Mr Brash added.
Last October the bus giant declared an 86% collapse in its 2017 pre-tax profits from £10.7m to just £1.5m after a £37m slump in its turnover.
The group is not due to make its 2018 finances public for another three months. However, last year saw the company announce two separate waves of redundancies totalling 190 jobs.
It left the group's workforce in the area at 1,400, a reduction of almost 500 people in three years.
In April the group also lost long-serving chairman and chief executive Mark Nodder after 21 years. The company has yet to announce a replacement.
One of Wrightbus' key creditors is understood to be the Bank of Ireland. According to Companies House, the company has 13 outstanding mortgages/charges registered with the lender.
The new generation of red double-deckers were introduced to great fanfare by Mr Johnston in 2012 but were criticised for their cost - between £325,000 and £354,000 each.
Recalls and upgrades put the project's eventual total cost at just over £321m.
Ballymena SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said last night he would seek a meeting with trade union representatives and the management of Wrightbus.
"Wrightbus is a significant employer in north Antrim and well beyond with around 1,400 good jobs," he added.
"News that the company has appointed Deloitte to seek investors or a buyer to resolve cash-flow issues will cause some worry among the existing workforce.
"I'm seeking a meeting with trade union representatives and with the management of the local firm to reassure workers and offer our support for the manufacturing sector in this area.
"It's critical we do all we can to protect, promote and enhance this sector."
UUP leader Robin Swan echoed those concerns, describing the developments as "worrying".
He said: "Wrightbus in Ballymena has been a valued employer and, following the loss of Michelin and JTI, it would be another body blow to the north Antrim economy."