Friday 18 October 2019

Wrightbus decision day: former shareholder 'regrets' deal to purchase company could not complete but talks continue

No second chances, says Paisley, this could be the end of bus making in Ballymena

Jeff Wright, lead pastor of Green Pastures Church and former Wrightbus director.
Jeff Wright, lead pastor of Green Pastures Church and former Wrightbus director.

Jonathan Bell and Mark Bain

Former Wrightbus chief shareholder Jeff Wright has said he "deeply regrets" a deal to purchase the company has not been agreed.

However, it is understood talks have not completely broke down and Jo Bamford - whose family own construction equipment company JCB - is considering a new deal to purchase the collapsed company.

NI Secretary of State Julian Smith said space needed to be given to allow for a deal to be made after he talked with the administrators.

In a statement shortly after the 10am deadline passed Mr Wright said "exhaustive efforts" had been made to get a deal and save the company from liquidation.

He said neither he or his family had created barriers to a deal through their land holdings.

"For the record the entire premises at Glagorm including the factory, fixtures and fittings as well as the land was agreed to be made available to all bidders, either to lease or purchase," he said.

"While each and every one of the bidders agreed terms Mr Bamford sought to gain unrelated additional farmlands owned by my family.

"These farmlands, which have restricted use,  were bought through a mortgage and were not at any time a part of the Wrightbus business.  What ambitions Mr Bamford or his associates may have had for our farmland is not clear, but it would be a mistake to conflate his farmland interests with his failure to complete on the Wrightbus deal and its associated lands."

He continued: "I hope that Deloittes have not been side-tracked by the Bamford engagement and can now put their energies into delivering a deal by working with the remaining bidders to secure the future of Wrightbus and the jobs in Ballymena.”

Mr Wright also called for MP Ian Paisley to allow those involved in the talks to be allowed to complete their negotiations.

It is understood issues persist around the deal for the land the factory sits on and which remains in the ownership of Jeff Wright, a former boss at the collapsed company.

Workers gathered at the Galgorm site on Thursday morning ahead of the expected announcement.

MP Ian Paisley told BBC Radio Ulster: “There’s no second chances here – you can’t do this again on Friday or Saturday – this is the decision day.

“Either it’s the continuation of the building of the best buses produced in the world, or it’s the end of bus building in Ballymena.

Mr Paisley said Jo Bamford, whose family owns equipment giant JCB, was the one exclusive bidder and his deal had been accepted by the bank and the administrator.

He said the deal created more jobs, developed the site and would develop new technology by the company.

"It writes a new chapter in what has been a brilliant story up until this blip," he added.

"It is something which should be grasped with both hands."

Around 1,200 staff lost their jobs two weeks ago when the company went into administration, but it's expected "hundreds" would be redeployed if a deal is done.

But the company could be liquidated if a deal isn't done by 10am today.

Mr Paisley said there was only one outstanding issue left in talks, the potential sale of the land where Wrightbus is based.

"It is no secret Jo Bamford has made this commitment ... to move here and make this situation work," he continued.

"It would be awful for that to be thrown back in his face.

"If we are asking someone to buy a stake in the province, to invest tens of millions of pounds, I think they are entitled to own an asset."

Administrators from advisory firm Deloitte were appointed to Wrightbus two weeks ago with the loss of 1,200 jobs after cash flow problems arising from trading difficulties.

Wrightbus rented the land from Whirlwind Property 2, which is owned by Wrightbus chief shareholder Jeff Wright.

Mr Bamford had been in talks over a purchase of the company before it went into administration, but was reported to have walked away before a deal could be done.

He was in Ballymena on Wednesday for talks with the administrators but left at 5pm without a deal for the land being reached.

His business Ryse Hydrogen has already worked with Wrightbus on a project to make hydrogen-fuelled buses for Transport for London.

Trade unions have urged Mr Wright to "do the right thing".

Mr Paisley said Mr Bamford envisaged a “leaner” operation at Wrightbus if successful in taking it over, but he said hundreds of jobs would still be created.

“It’s critical and everyone needs to come together and put their shoulder to wheel to get this over the line one way or the other.”

The Wright family has insisted it has acted reasonably throughout the sales process.

Belfast Telegraph

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