Jo Bamford will save troubled bus-maker Wrightbus from collapse after an 11th-hour deal was agreed in principle following “tricky negotiations”, the businessman said in a statement.
Daily Week News revealed on Wednesday that Mr Bamford, a member of the industrial family behind JCB, had entered into exclusive talks to buy the company from administrator Deloitte.
Mr Bamford said on Friday morning that he was “delighted to announce that… I have agreed terms on a deal in principle with the Wright family for the Wrightbus factory and land”.
He added that a deal with Deloitte was still be concluded.
Describing it as a “momentous day”, George Brash from the Unite union said that there were “a lot of smiling faces at the moment”.
Thanking North Antrim MP Ian Paisley for his “hard work and diligence”, Mr Bamford described the negotiations as “tricky”.
In response to the announcement, Mr Paisley said that he “welcomed” the news that after “weeks of hard work a deal [had been reached] to get men and women back to work building busses”.
He added: “To the workers of Ballymena I salute your fortitude and patience.”
The move by Mr Bamford, who was among the bidders for Wrightbus before it plunged into insolvency proceedings threatening 1,300 jobs, had raised hopes that the company had a viable future.
Negotiations over rental payments were among the major sticking points that prevented a deal being reached before Wrightbus called in administrators, Daily Week News understands.
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.
Wrightbus counts Volvo among its biggest remaining customers, with Mr Bamford said to believe there is scope to rebuild the business.
Daily Week 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.