Belfast Telegraph

Margaret Canning: Staff face nightmare wait as public is glued to drama's twists and turns

The Wrightbus staff who waited in the rain for news yesterday
The Wrightbus staff who waited in the rain for news yesterday
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Wrightbus has gone from a pin-up for manufacturing prowess to a disparate selection of assets being wrangled over in an unusually public process.

The administration of a company is usually a highly secretive process in its early stages.

And where a sale of a company is likely, the administrators usually dispassionately assess the quality of bids, with the process behind closed doors until some happy news can be announced.

For example, McErlain's Bakery in Magherafelt was sold last year after going into administration in a fairly smooth process. But yesterday, a Wrightbus war was being waged in full glare of the public.

What about the heartbroken workers whose fate, according to former chief shareholder Jeff Wright, now comes down to the ownership of some farmland?

Yet despite the ratcheting-up of rhetoric over who's to blame for the failure to reach a deal so far, there's still hope for a rescue.

Jo Bamford, son of JCB owner Lord Bamford, has said he still wants to conclude a deal. Indeed, the Bamford family motto of 'stick and stay and make it pay' could yet stand him in good stead.

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Yesterday he and Jeff Wright were locked in a dispute over who's to blame for the failure to cut a deal on the Wrightbus land.

Mr Bamford's camp would claim that Mr Wright is "moving the goalposts" by asking for a further £1.5m for the entirety of the land after the entrepreneur had already agreed to add another £1m.

Mr Wright denies the claim that he's demanded more money and insists that Mr Bamford has thrown some "farmlands" into the mix.

However, the Bamford position is that the "farmlands" were always part of the deal and were included when Wrightbus bought the site in the first place from JTI Gallaher's.

But there's no denying that yesterday's shenanigans are a painful sideshow for the workers who are still waiting patiently to hear if they can be bought over in the event of a rescue.

Yesterday, huddled masses of workers took shelter from the rain outside the factory, waiting for news. And while the public has been agog at the twists and turns in the Wrightbus tale, we're all safely at one removed, unlike the workers who are worrying where their next mortgage payment will come from.

Once upon a time, no visit to Northern Ireland by a Chancellor was complete without a pilgrimage to Ballymena.

Even if a deal is done, getting the company back on its feet will require dedication and acumen.

Yesterday, an announcement of a business event by an accountancy firm asked, 'how future-proof are family businesses?'. It is sobering to think the future of one of our most famous family firms is now reduced to a row over the price of some land.

At a time when many box-set addicts are following the story of a family business in the popular TV show Succession, Northern Ireland has been hooked on the story of Wrightbus. And while the twists and turns have been remarkable, it's a ghastly roller coaster ride for the workers.

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