A member of the industrial dynasty behind JCB is edging closer to a rescue deal for the Northern Irish bus-maker Wrightbus that could save hundreds of jobs.
Sky News has learnt that Jo Bamford has entered exclusive talks about a transaction, two weeks after the Ballymena-based company was forced to appoint Deloitte as administrator.
The move by Mr Bamford, who was among the bidders for Wrightbus before it plunged into insolvency proceedings, threatening 1,300 jobs, will raise hopes that the company has a viable future.
However, the completion of a rescue deal is understood to be contingent upon Mr Bamford reaching agreement with the member of the founding Wright family who owns the factory from which Wrightbus operates.
Negotiations over rental payments were among the major sticking points that prevented a deal being reached before Wrightbus called in administrators.
Sources said that unless Mr Bamford’s vehicle and Jeff Wright, the factory’s owner, could strike a deal, the latest rescue effort was also at risk of falling apart.
Deloitte is understood to be determined to resolve the company’s future as quickly as possible, with future customer orders at risk.
If completed, Mr Bamford’s prospective rescue deal would save “hundreds” of jobs, although at least half of Wrightbus’s 1300-strong workforce are unlikely to secure ongoing employment with the company.
Wrightbus, which was established just after the Second World War, is best-known for having built London’s new Routemaster buses, which became known as “Boris buses” during Boris Johnson’s tenure as London mayor.
The prime minister was challenged over the decline of Wrightbus in the House of Commons last month, prompting him to pledge undisclosed government support.
The company’s collapse into administration triggered questions about the extent to which Mr Johnson’s administration has intervened to help it.
The PM recently told MPs: “It [Wrightbus] was of great value to the people of this country and I think it’s a great company and we will make sure, I give my assurance, we will do everything we can to ensure the future of that great UK company.”
Wrightbus’s appointment of administrators news represented a devastating blow to Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector, which has already been hit by significant redundancies at the aerospace group Bombardier.
Wrightbus counts Volvo among its biggest remaining customers, with Mr Bamford said to believe there is scope to rebuild the business.
Sky News revealed in July that Wrightbus had hired Deloitte, the professional services firm, to court potential buyers after a financial downturn that has left it facing heavy losses.
Annualised losses are currently running to approximately £15m, and the company may need a capital injection of at least £30m, an insider said in July.
Wrightbus has had a presence in Ballymena for decades, although the company has faced significant headwinds amid an accelerating transition from diesel to electric in bus technology.
The company’s plight has raised questions about the company’s substantial donations over a period of years to a local church.
None of the parties involved in the talks could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
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