Northern Ireland

Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus 'seeking investors'

Wrightbus facility
Image caption Wrightbus is one of Ballymena's largest employers

The Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus has confirmed it is seeking an investor as it faces cashflow problems.

The company is a major employer, with about 1,400 staff in Northern Ireland.

In a statement, the company said it was working with financial advisors Deloitte to find potential investors.

Unite, which represents workers in Wrightbus, said the news had "given rise to concerns among the workforce" and they would seek an urgent meeting.

Wrightbus said new investors would "ensure that the skills and talents of our Ballymena workforce continue to deliver cutting-edge transport vehicles".

"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," said the statement.

Unite's regional officer, George Brash, said the workforce "deserve full transparency".

"Wrightbus is a major employer, and reports that the company is seeking new investors have given rise to concerns among the workforce and the wider Ballymena community," he said.

'Cautious approach'

The bus market in the UK is in a relatively slow period.

Bus operators ordered a large number of vehicles in recent years to meet new emissions standards.

Those operators are now taking a cautious approach to the next generation of buses, ordering electric or hydrogen powered vehicles in small numbers.

Latest accounts show Wrightbus made a pre-tax profit of about £5m on turnover of more than £181m in 2017.

But its financial situation has deteriorated since then.

It made two round of redundancies last year with 95 jobs going in February and June.

At the time it said this reflected continued low levels of demand for new buses in the UK market.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Robin Swann said it would be "another body blow to the north Antrim economy" if an investor could not be found.

In recent years, cigarette manufacturer JTI Gallaher and the Michelin tyre factory have closed.

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