Northern Ireland bus makers Wrightbus have assured their 1,400 employees today that they are in a race to complete a final deal with credible bidders.
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 – was close to administration.
A major NI businessman, Darren Donnelly, confirmed he was a leading bidder but then withdrew from the process this week.
However a memo sent to all employees today said that the ongoing talks with potential buyers was now “hopefully good news for everyone”.
It said: “We have an update for you all today and as we have done throughout, are seeking to keep you informed at each stage of this process.
“We want to assure you that this is hopefully good news for everyone.
“We are now in a race to complete a final deal with credible bidders.
“In these bids it is envisaged that employment contracts will be TUPE’d across to the new owner and your length of service will be preserved. You will continue to be paid as normal and once this stage is complete, the new owner will take over all business operations.
“This ongoing business and its employees are our number one priority and we are confident that a positive outcome can be delivered over the next few days.
“We will be in a position to update you next week regarding next steps.”
One employee told the News Letter that a company director brought workers into the canteen to brief them after lunch on Wednesday.
“They probably waited until they had the deal almost signed before telling everyone officially that it was good news and we were going to be saved,” he said. “But he didn’t say who it was.
“The mood was great relief. I can get another wee job somewhere but all the young fellas with wives and a couple of wee’uns and mortgages - you could see the relief on their faces. I was more happy for them and for Ballymena.”
He added: “We always thought it was going to be one of two Chinese bidders but the rumour now is that it is Bamford of JCB that will buy us.”
Some media outlets reported that Jo Bamford - whose father Lord Bamford is chairman of JCB - was involved in talks with the company.
The developments will have been unsettling for many in Ballymena, which has lost major manufacturers Michelin and Gallaghers in recent years. Latest accounts show Wrightbus made a pre-tax profit of £5m on a turnover of more than £181m in 2017.
However its financial situation has worsened since then, letting 95 workers go twice last year - which it said reflected low levels of demand for new buses in the UK.