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Bleak day for workers as Wrightbus enters administration

Yesterday was a dark day for manufacturing in Northern Ireland as major employer Wrightbus went into administration with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

With a further 1,700 jobs in the supply chain likely to be affected, it is clear this is a devastating blow not just for Ballymena but also the wider economy of the north.

Workers had been braced for an announcement following reports in recent months that the firm was suffering cash flow problems and seeking investment.

Last week there seemed to be some grounds for optimism after the company announced it was close to securing a buyer but unfortunately those hopes were dashed.

It is difficult to understand how it has all gone so badly wrong for Wrightbus, regarded until recently as a shining success story in Northern Ireland business.

The once highly profitable company produced low emissions vehicles, winning an order from then London mayor Boris Johnson for what became known as 'Boris buses'.

Mr Johnson was a high profile supporter of the firm, visiting the plant during the EU referendum campaign in 2016 and he recently told Westminster his government would do everything it could to help Wrightbus.

It is not known what steps, if any, the government has taken to assist the company although it is recognised that market conditions have not been favourable.

However, Wrightbus is a little unusual for such a large-scale business, particularly in respect to its close links to a local church and Christian charity led by Jeff Wright, son of the company founder Sir William Wright.

Questions will now be asked about £15 million in donations in recent years to the Green Pastures charity, which has developed a large church and mini-village complex in Ballymena.

This may not have been an issue when the company's finances were in a healthy state but workers are entitled know if the right business decisions were taken at all stages.

For Ballymena, this is the third hammer blow for the town's manufacturing base, which has seen the loss of JTI Gallahers and Michelin.

With Wrightbus, it means that more than 5,000 jobs have gone from the town in the past few years.

These are difficult times and all staff who have lost their livelihoods need help and support in finding fresh employment.

This news also underlines the need for a restored Assembly to address concerns in the manufacturing sector.

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