Death threats and protests – Wrightbus collapse

Former-Wrightbus workers protested over their former-employer’s donation of millions of pounds to a church. Death threats were also sent to the Wright family over the collapse of the company.

Wrightbus entered administration last week, leading to around 1,200 redundancies, after Deloitte failed to find a new owner.. It was suffering cashflow problems and took on the services of Deloitte to help it find new investors in July.

Protestors were critical of the Ballymena-based company’s donations to a church. Wrightbus’ parent company, Cornerstone Group, donated £16.1m to charity between 2012 and 2017, according to its listed accounts on Companies House. The donations came before the business made two rounds of redundancies in recent times and were made despite reporting financial losses. Some of the donated money is reported to have helped fund the expansion of Green Pastures, a church in Ballymena led by Jeff Wright, former-Director of Wrightbus and majority shareholder of Cornerstone Group.

Reports said Wrightsbus founder, Sir William Wright, apologised to protestors who gathered outside of the Green Pastures church.

Responding to death threats made to Wright family members, in a statement Jeff Wright called for an end to the intimidating messages.

After pledging support during Wrightbus’ search for new investors, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the government is to continue to help find somebody to rebuild the business. In a BBC interview, when the number of jobs was mentioned, Johnson said one of the ‘problems’ was the current Mayor of London for not continuing what Boris described as a ‘very, very good contract’.
He acknowledged there were some problems with the management of the company, but described Wrightbus as a ‘brilliant brand’. He also mentioned a problem with the ownership of the land the business is based on.

The Wrights have denied accusations the bidders for Wrightbus were put off by the family acting unreasonably. The Wrightbus factory in Ballymena is owned separately from the company by Jeff Wright. This is understood to have been a stumbling block during negotiations with bidders for the business.

TUV leader and local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Jim Allister, said: “Last week has been one of the most difficult and trying for everyone in Ballymena.

“With Wrightbus the sense of loss is palpable.

“It is no surprise that anger thrives as well with many understandably asking ‘what are our politicians doing?’ I get that.

“I can only answer for myself and my party, but we have been engaged proactively with unions, the company and the administrator. Not everything can be for public consumption at this point because the overriding objective is to try and salvage as much as possible from these ruins.

“I still believe something worthwhile can be salvaged. Wrightbus has a marvellous product. It must not be lost. In particular, we must not see the ‘ahead of the game’ hydrogen technology stripped out and sold to the Far East.

“It is natural to apportion blame, but the dignity and empathy of Sir William Wright will touch many as they feel for a man who in advanced years sees his life’s work crumble.”

In a different statement, Jim Allister said: “I have to say that I have a suspicion that some, who showed interest in Wrightbus, may have pulled back in the hope and expectation they could buy it cheaper in administration. Such a callous calculation only adds to the sense of dismay among the workforce, as does the failure of the Department of Infrastructure to fund the new bus order that could have come from Translink.”

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