Saturday 17 August 2019

No Boris bounce: NI maker of PM’s buses seeks funding

Leader: Mr Johnson makes a speech after winning the Conservative leadership contest yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Leader: Mr Johnson makes a speech after winning the Conservative leadership contest yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan McAleer

The Ballymena-based maker of the ‘Boris Buses’ famously commissioned by then London mayor Boris Johnson has confirmed that it is actively seeking new investors.

Wrightbus which employs around 1,400 people has drafted in Deloitte to assist in the process.

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The bus-maker became synonymous with Boris Johnston’s eight-year stint as Mayor of London when Transport for London ordered 1,000 of its new double decker Routemasters that were quickly dubbed the Boris Buses.

The red double-deckers were introduced to great fanfare by Mr Johnston in 2012, but criticised for their cost, between £325,000 (€362,000) and £354,000 each.

Mr Johnson is set to be elected UK prime minister today.

Sky News reported that the Wrights Group is seeking a capital investment of at least £30m.

In a statement last night, Wrights Group said: “As Wrightbus continues to expand its global customer base, there is increased complexity to tailor our products to the climate, territory and operating characteristics of our diverse customer base.

“To strengthen the company’s ability to accelerate its development of these new technologies Deloitte is working with the company to explore the potential of bringing on board an investor.

“This is to ensure that the skills and talents of our Ballymena workforce continue to deliver cutting-edge transport vehicles to our customers near and far. The company continues to win new business and this is evident in the recent uptake of our zero emission fuel cell vehicles bolstering a strong 2019 order book.”

Trade union Unite, which represents workers in Wrightbus, last night called for an urgent meeting with the company.

Regional Officer George Brash said the search for new investors has given rise to concerns among the workforce and the wider Ballymena community.

“Unite is seeking an urgent meeting with the company... The workforce in Wrightbus deserve full transparency,” he said. 

In October the bus giant declared an 86pc collapse from 2017’s pre-tax profits - from £10.7m to just £1.5m after a £37m slump in its turnover.

The group is not due to publish 2018 financial results for another three months. However, last year the company announced two separate waves of redundancies totalling 190 jobs.

It left the group’s workforce in the region of 1,400, a reduction of almost 500 people in three years.

In April, the group also lost its long-serving chairman and chief executive Mark Nodder after 21 years. The company has yet to announce a replacement.

One of Wrightbus’ key lenders is understood to be Bank of Ireland. According to Companies House, the company has 13 outstanding mortgages/charges registered with the lender.

Ballymena SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said last night he will seek a meeting with trade union representatives and the management of Wrightbus to discuss the concerns.

“North Antrim has suffered significant manufacturing job losses at Michelin and JTI over the last number of years, it’s critical that we do all we can to protect, promote and enhance this sector,”  said Councillor Reid.

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