PM urged to intervene as ‘Boris bus’ maker Wrightbus goes into administration

Boris Johnson has been urged to “do something decent” and intervene on behalf of one of the UK’s main bus manufacturers as it went into administration.

Wrightbus became the second major firm to face collapse within a week after holiday company Thomas Cook entered liquidation.

The Unite union warned of “devastating consequences” for the workforce at the firm, which manufactured the so-called “Boris bus” ordered by Mr Johnson when he was London mayor but has struggled with cash flow problems.

Angry workers described “silence” in the room as they were told the news during mass meetings in Northern Ireland on Wednesday morning.

Stephen Wright, 47, a production manager from Ballymena, said it was a sombre atmosphere as more than 3,000 direct and indirect jobs were put at risk.

“It is a very close-knit company and a lot of people were there a long time.

“A lot of good friendships and relationships are coming to an end, so it is a sad day.”

Staff members shake hands as they leave Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Staff members shake hands as they leave the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)

Norman Stephens, a paint shop quality inspector, has worked for Wrightbus for 30 years.

He said he felt sorry for company founder Sir William Wright, who had worked so hard to build up what was once one of Northern Ireland’s most successful companies.

Mr Stephens said: “He built it from nothing with his father and now it has went to the dogs.”

He said administration was on the cards five years ago.

“Who is going to employ a 62-year-old man?

“I have nothing now, that is it.”

Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said it was a workforce at the cutting edge of technological advancements in the design and supply of green public transport.

He added: “We cannot afford to lose any more jobs or skills in this area.

“Just three months ago, Boris Johnson gave assurances that he ‘will do everything we can to ensure the future of that great UK company’.

“He has a chance today to do something decent.”

Administrators Michael Magnay and Peter Allen, from Deloitte, said the various Wrightbus companies had around 1,250 employees and the lack of a buyer “unfortunately means approximately 1,200 redundancies are being made today”.

Metal cases for tools are wheeled from the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Metal cases for tools are wheeled from the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Magnay said: “It is bitterly disappointing for all concerned that despite extensive efforts over recent months it has not been possible to find a buyer who wanted to maintain the business as a going concern.

“We recognise the companies are crucially important employers in Ballymena and this will be devastating news for those who worked there, their families and the town, which has already suffered from a number of manufacturing closures in recent years.

“We will continue to support employees through this difficult time.

“The joint administrators will explore all remaining options for the business and assets, and would encourage any parties with an interest to contact them.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley said the administrator “has a week to find a buyer”.

The North Antrim firm has been seeking investment or a new owner as it struggles with cash problems.

Stormont Assembly member Jim Allister said: “My heart goes out to the hundreds with no wage packet this week or job hereafter.”

Wrightbus has been a hugely profitable company in the past and based its business model on producing low-emissions vehicles.

When Mr Johnson was mayor he announced a lucrative order to produce London’s distinctive red double-decker, an updated version of the original Routemaster.

New bus services to start
A Routemaster bus passes through Piccadilly Circus, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Critics at the time said the new “Boris buses” were too expensive and estimated that the first eight had cost £1.4 million each to design and build.

There were also complaints that the new Routemasters, which were longer and heavier than other models, were unbearably hot, with later batches altered to provide windows.

Mr Johnson visited Wrightbus during the EU referendum campaign in February 2016.

Wrightbus founder Mr Wright has been a prominent supporter of Brexit and the DUP, which has been propping up the Tories at Westminster.

Northern Ireland’s manufacturing industry has been under pressure in recent years, with the slumping into administration of Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

Michelin Tyres and Gallaher’s Tobacco firms have also closed in Ballymena.

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