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Unions urge PM to intervene as Wrightbus lays off 1,200 staff

A worker leaves the Ballymena plant with his tools

BORIS Johnson will be remembered as a "disgrace" if he does not intervene to help an ailing giant of the UK bus building industry, a union leader said.

Around 1,200 workers were made redundant as Ballymena-based Wrightbus went into administration after failed attempts to find a buyer.

It built London's Routemaster double-decker - dubbed the "Boris Bus" - which was ordered by the Prime Minister when he was mayor and chair of Transport for London, the capital's public transport operator.

Wrightbus won contracts around the world with its innovative green technology but struggled with cash flow problems and a wider downturn in the industry.

Ian Knox cartoon 26/9/19 

Three or four potential buyers failed to materialise in recent days, a union said.

Unite the union's Susan Fitzgerald said: "Boris Johnson was happy to stand in this factory when buses were being named after him.

"He has an opportunity today and in the days ahead to do something decent, to intervene, and it is in his gift to do this and nationalise Wrightbus.

"This workforce needs to be back across the gate producing buses, green alternative transport buses that we need for our society, that are needed for the public transport network.

"He should do that, and if he does not that is what he will be remembered for, a disgrace, he has a chance to do something good here."

Workers wheeled their tools from the factory on Wednesday afternoon and the gates were closed behind them.

Police patrolled nearby as dozens massed in the car park and there was palpable anger and plans for a protest on Sunday.

Former employees described "silence" in the room as they were told the news during mass meetings with administrators and management on Wednesday morning.

Phil McIlvenna, 37, a coach builder with a wife and seven-month-old child, spent decades at the site.

He said: "All along you have your hopes built up, you are optimistic, you are not making other plans based on what they have told you and now you are going to have one and a half thousand people hitting the jobs and benefits office."

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

"Just three months ago, Boris Johnson gave assurances that he 'will do everything we can to ensure the future of that great UK company'," she said.

"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".

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."

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

But there has also been criticism levelled at the company for "gifting" more than £15 million in Christian charity donations over the last six years, including more than £4m in 2017, when is actually posted a trading loss despite having sales of £227m.

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