Ian Paisley calls for government to help Wrightbus

NORTH Antrim MP Ian Paisley says he will ask the government to “make a major intervention” in relation to cashflow problems at Wrightbus.

The DUP MP made the comments after Wrightbus confirmed it is seeking an investor to resolve the issue.

MP Ian Paisley.

 

He added that he previously raised the issue with Boris Johnson, before he became prime minister.

The company employs about 1,400 staff in NI.

“I’m looking at something that would need to have a government response within a fortnight, if not sooner, and I certainly hope someone in government will hear those concerns and respond to them,” said Mr Paisley.

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 rounds of redundancies last year with 95 jobs going in February and June – which it said reflected continued low levels of demand for new buses in the UK market.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Wrightbus said it was working with financial advisors to find potential investors.

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

Speaking to BBC News NI, Ian Paisley described the situation as “serious”.

“There is a major cashflow problem that needs to be resolved,” he said.

“A lot of work has gone on over the last nine months to try and help those issues.

“It needs cash to keep running, and to pay its talented workforce.

“I’ve already contacted Boris Johnson’s office – I had spoken to him before about this, but now he is in a position of influence I will be asking the government to make a major intervention to try and help this company, as it requires significant help.”

In relation to the company’s workforce, Mr Paisley said: “They want information and I think that information is gradually being given.”

In a statement, Wrightbus 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.

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 in Ballymena with the loss of thousands of jobs.

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