Wrightbus should have been in driving seat for Belfast contract
There can be little surprise that Dr William Wright, the founder of the highly successful Wrightbus company in Ballymena, has written to the Transport Minister Michelle McIlveen asking her to intervene directly, after a £19m contract to build 30 new buses for Belfast was awarded to a company in Belgium.
The Ballymena area is being hit badly by job losses, and this contract for one of the town's major employers would have been most timely. The quality and prestige of the Wrightbus company has brought it business from many parts of the world, including China, and it is hard to believe that its products could be bettered anywhere.
Dr Wright challenges the assertion that his company cannot make the right type of bus for the new Belfast Rapid Transport System, and he underlines that Wrightbus' experience and depth of knowledge in the bus-manufacturing business is second to none.
It would be hard to imagine this vastly experienced and visionary company not being able to provide the type of vehicle required while still complying with strict EU procurement rules for any of its buses.
It is also important to get the best value possible for Northern Ireland, and it is difficult to see how awarding this contract to a hugely successful company in an area facing great job pressure would not deliver precisely that.
Minister McIlveen does not represent the Ballymena constituency, and this gives her the strength to examine the case independently. She and her officials should look again at the details, and consider that it would be right to reverse the decision to provide Belfast buses from elsewhere in Europe, and to award the contract to the Ballymena company, which has proved repeatedly that its world-renowned reputation has been hugely deserved.
This is not a question of charity beginning at home.
In reality it is a hard-headed decision based on fairness and the experience of a world-class company.