Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Wrightbus collapse a devastating blow

Security workers close the gates at the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)
Security workers close the gates at the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

There was shock accompanied by palpable anger at the decision yesterday to make 1,200 employees redundant with immediate effect at Wrightbus in Ballymena. This is another devastating blow to the town's economy which has seen thousands of jobs shed in a number of firm closures since the end of 2017.

Wrightbus' fall into administration came with unexpected suddenness as it was only in July this year that the firm announced it was seeking a new investor. The top company in the Wright group showed a £1.7m loss last year, but in 2017, it had recorded pre-tax profits of almost £11m.

A number of factors contributed to its problems. The most severe was the downturn in demand in the UK for new buses, which saw new registrations down 30% in the second quarter of this year compared to the same time last year. It was the tenth quarter in a row in which registrations had fallen.

The heady days of the Boris buses when the now Prime Minister ordered 1,000 of the vehicles from Wrightbus when he was Mayor of London. But his successor is not a fan of the vehicles and the Boris buses did not win orders overseas.

Workers at the plant want Boris to rescue them in their hour of need, but given his decision to turn a deaf ear to the plight of the much smaller Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it seems clear that nationalisation will not be an option.

It is said that this third generation family firm has now been placed in administration. The family said they had paid workers' wages to the tune of £500,000 over the last two weeks, a very laudable gesture, but obviously unsustainable. Even an injection of cash from Invest NI by way of a £2.5m loan to help it find a buyer could not save it.

There is no doubt that the company has a very skilled and flexible workforce, but the appetite for new buses has been greatly depressed in the UK and overseas orders are difficult to secure.

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But as the Harland & Wolff saga showed, where the company still exists, there must be hope. Four buyers have had an interest in Wrightbus, with the last two pulling out last Friday. Just what their reluctance to go any further was based on is not known, but there may be other buyers willing to enter the market.

That must be the hope for the workforce, the supply chain companies and the wider Ballymena community, which is reeling again from a devastating economic blow.

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