TfL bus manufacturer tasks Deloitte with investor search

29 July 2019 3 min. read

The Ballymena-based owner of Wrightbus has tasked Deloitte with undertaking a search for new investors, after a financial downturn left it facing life in the red. The Northern Irish bus-maker, whose major customers include Transport for London, is courting potential buyers as trade union Unite has said it is seeking an urgent meeting with the company regarding the job security of its members.

Founded in 1946, Wrightbus has grown to employ around 1,400 people, making it one of Northern Ireland’s biggest privately-owned employers. It is also one of the last major employers in the Ballymena area of County Antrim, following a major spate of closures in recent years. This saw building giant Patton, tobacco company JTI Gallaher, and tyre manufacturer Michelin all exit the location amid turbulent economic conditions – conditions which now appear to have hit Wrightbus too.

The firm’s owner, Wright Group, which is one of Northern Ireland's biggest exporters, has been enduring a sustained downturn in its finances in recent years. Annualised losses are currently running to approximately £15 million, while the company may need a capital injection of at least £30 million, according to a report from Sky News. A source close to the firm said Wright Group's most recent accounts recorded a pre-tax profit of about £1.5 million, down from £10.7 million in 2016, making it “unclear” what the prospects are for Wright Group unless it can secure new financial backing.

TfL bus manufacturer tasks Deloitte with investor search

To that end, the company has drafted in advisors from Big Four firm Deloitte to weigh up the firm’s options. The professional services firm will now advise Wright Group on talks with prospective investors, with City insiders having told the press that a number of turnaround funds have been approached to gauge their interest in injecting tens of millions of pounds into the family-owned company. A Wright Group statement confirmed the move comes at a time of “increased complexity” in tailoring their products for a global customer base.

The statement confirmed, “Deloitte is working with the company to explore the potential of bringing on board an investor. This is to ensure that the skills and talents of our Ballymena workforce continue to deliver cutting-edge transport vehicles to our customers near and far. 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.”

At this stage, the status of talks with potential bidders remains unclear, although a source close to the process also told Sky News that Deloitte was working on "restructuring" options for the Northern Irish bus-maker. In line with this, 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 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,” Regional Officer George Brash said. “Unite is seeking an urgent meeting with the company to address the genuine concerns which news reports have raised for our members. The workforce in Wrightbus deserve full transparency.”