Belfast Telegraph

UK must curtail Chinese imports, says ex-manager

By Michael McHugh

The Government should "waken up" before UK technology and innovation is destroyed by cheap Chinese imports, a former manager at the Wrightbus bus manufacturer said.

Richard Young (36) was in charge of product development at the firm and oversaw cutting-edge design for electric and hydrogen vehicles.

Yesterday he attended a redundancy advice centre along with hundreds of other colleagues after the Co Antrim firm entered administration with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

He said: "All the innovation is being taken out of the UK and sent to China - they are not having any import duties put on them.

"If the UK Government does not get involved soon or waken up there is going to be no technology or innovation coming out of the UK and we are going to be solely reliant on importing."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the distinctive red Routemaster London buses from Wrightbus during his time as mayor.

He visited the plant to announce the order, and trade unionists have accused him of not doing enough to save the ailing firm, which suffered major cash flow problems.

The advice centre at a theatre in Ballymena town centre was busy and groups of workers stood waiting outside.

Mr Young worked at the company for six years and his department was busy until the end and was involved with a new product which was fuelled by hydrogen.

They had a number of vehicles off the line and had handed it over for manufacture, but cash flow had had an impact on everything, Mr Young said.

He worked for Sir William Wright, the founder of the company, who he described as "the man that was always at the forefront of the business".

"(Sir William) was developing new technology, and everyone is talking about building electric buses. We built a number of electric buses and put them into Milton Keynes, we also put them into Edinburgh for Lothian Buses and they were a successful product.

"We had already started moving on to hydrogen, but what killed the UK bus economy was there is no import tax put on to the Chinese product that is coming into the UK, and they are flooding the market and we just cannot compete."

He praised the firm, which helped him acquire valuable management qualifications, stressing he had "no ill-feeling".

"I went into Wrightbus during the recession in the construction industry and I thoroughly enjoyed my six years there," explained Mr Young.

"They were good to me and they put dinner on my family's plates so I have no ill-feeling whatsoever, bar when we were called in the week prior and told to ignore any Press speculation over the weekend, only to be called in the following week and told that our jobs were gone."

He said his quickest route back to employment lay with the construction industry.

"I have always reflected well on my time within Wrightbus. I just hope that there still can be an investor found and I believe in the technology that I personally managed and worked on. So hopefully someone else comes in and carries on the good work that my team had developed."

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