Troubled NI bus maker Wrights Group has insisted it is in “advanced discussions” with a small number of investors, after the ‘leading’ bidder revealed he has pulled out of the process.
In recent days it was reported that the Ballymena company – which has a turnover of over £180m and produced the famed ‘Boris Bus’ for London – could collapse into administration as early as this week.
Last week Sky News said NI businessman Darren Donnelly was the leading contender to buy up the company, which employs 1,400 people.
In 2016 Mr Donnelly and his father sold their main business, SDC Trailers, for almost £100m.
Sky reported that Wrightbus’ annualised losses are currently running to approximately £15m, and that the company may need a capital injection of at least £30m.
In the past year it has made 95 workers redundant on two occasions, citing a downturn in demand for buses across the UK.
However, a spokesperson for Mr Donnelly confirmed yesterday that, whilst he had emerged as the potential acquirer of Wrightbus, he has since withdrawn from discussions regarding the purchase of the company.
The spokesperson added: “Whilst discussions had been ongoing over the past number of weeks, Mr Donnelly has confirmed that he has withdrawn from the process and is no longer pursuing the potential purchase of the Wrightbus company. Mr Donnelly has no further comment to make at this time.”
Wrightbus, however, remained upbeat about its future and the remaining investors still in the running.
“We are now in advanced discussions with a limited number of investors,” a spokeswoman said. “We are optimistic and are working hard towards getting the best possible outcome for the skilled workforce we have in Ballymena, UK mainland and Ireland and our international territories.
“Wrights Group is world class and recognised for the technology it brings to the marketplace. We will ensure that staff are kept informed throughout this process. Due to the commercial nature of these final discussions, we are unable to comment further until the process is completed.”
SDLP Ballymena Councillor Eugene Reid said support must be found for the company.
“The local manufacturing has sustained several serious body blows over the last number of years,” he said. “Job losses at JTI, Michelin and others have hurt Ballymena. We have to do all we can to support this critical sector.
“Wrightbus is another significant local employer. Around 1400 members of staff are undoubtedly demoralised and deeply worried about their future after public commentary regarding the firm’s future. News today that Darren Donnelly has withdrawn from discussions to purchase the business will add to their worry. I’m glad to hear that advanced discussions are happening with other investors.
“I will be speaking to Trade Union representatives and management at the earliest opportunity to get a full picture of the situation and do all I can to support workers at this uncertain time.”