Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus received £9m from Invest NI and some money may now have to be paid back

A total of 1,200 jobs were axed when the manufacturer went into administration (Liam McBurney/PA)
A total of 1,200 jobs were axed when the manufacturer went into administration (Liam McBurney/PA)

Collapsed Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus received more than £9m in state funding since 2002, it has emerged.

The company entered into administration last week with the loss of 1,200 jobs, citing cash flow issues and a downturn in orders.

Over the last 17 years, Northern Ireland's business development agency, Invest NI, gave the stricken firm's parent company, Wrights Group, £9.05m in grants, The Irish Times reported.

Invest NI confirmed the figures and also said Wrights Group had a loan of £2.5m in place.

Since the collapse of the firm last week, it is understood Invest NI is considering attempting to recoup some of the money.

In 2014 alone, the agency offered Wrights Group £1.8m towards a £14m research and development programme.

Wrights Group is owned by the Cornerstone Group, which is also controlled by the Wright family and is not part of the administration process.

The former director of Wrightbus, Jeff Wright, has come under fire due to donations Green Pastures Church, where he is the lead pastor, received from the Cornerstone Group.

From 2010 to 2017 the Cornerstone Group gave the church a total of £15.38m in charitable donations as part of their "commitment to Christian, evangelical and other charitable activities", according to the group's accounts.

Accounts for 2017 show the Cornerstone Group donated £4.15m, while the business made a loss of £1.7m.

In previous years, however, the group made donations while also making a profit.

Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI, said the rules they put in place when offering investment were followed.

"On every company whenever we put grant assistance in, we put restrictions on the volume or value of drawings that can be made out of that company," he said.

Wrightbus staff stage a peaceful protest outside Green Pastures Church
Wrightbus staff stage a peaceful protest outside Green Pastures Church

"Clearly, we can't say to a company that we can't give you grant assistance you can take nothing out by way of dividend."

Last Sunday, hundreds of former Wrightbus workers held a protest outside a Green Pastures Church in Ballymena over the donations.

Scores of former employees attended a jobs fair in Ballymena as part of a council-run initiative to find them employment.

Chair of the council's Borough Growth Committee, Councillor Gregg McKeen, said they had identified around 250 jobs that may be suitable to ex-Wrightbus staff.

In a statement issued by Green Pastures last week, a spokesperson said they "devastated" and "heartbroken" by the collapse of Wrightbus and are grateful for the donations they received.

"We understand the hurt, anger and confusion felt by so many, as many within our own congregation have been personally affected by these job losses and we are doing all we can to support them at this time," they said.

"As with any donation we receive as a church, we are incredibly grateful for the support the Wright family have offered us. They, along with many others, chose to be generous when their family business enabled them to do so."

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