Dorset probes bus contract as Alex Carter leaves Go South Coast.

Mystery surrounds the sudden departure of Go South Coast managing director Alex Carter last week, following a chaotic start to a major contract by the firm’s Damory Coaches subsidiary.

In June, 65-vehicle Damory Coaches was awarded a transformational contract from Dorset County Council to operate local bus services requiring around 180 vehicles. The deal was hailed as an innovative arrangement that would help the local authority to get better value for money. However, when the contract started earlier this month many services ran late or failed to operate at all.

Parent company Go Ahead confirmed that Carter was no longer in his post. “Alex Carter is currently unable to fulfil his duties as MD at Go South Coast, so Andrew Wickham [managing director of Plymouth Citybus] is temporarily covering the post,” a spokeswoman told Passenger Transport. “There is nothing further to say, but we would urge you not to draw any conclusions based on speculation.”

Dorset County Council has launched an internal investigation after admitting “teething problems” with the new contract, which was the result of a five-year review of the way in which the local authority procured tendered bus services. The change saw every single subsidised transport service in the county retendered and awarded to new ‘partner operators’ for a minimum of five years. Rather than awarding on the basis of the cheapest bid, Dorset based the awards on both a value for money and quality of service test (PT009).

Go South Coast’s Damory made significant gains as part of the exercise and won work for around 180 vehicles – a trebling of its fleet. At the time of the contract award, Go South Coast said that some of the work would be contracted out to sister company Wilts & Dorset amongst others, but the intention was for Damory to take on the majority of the work.

The introduction of the new contracts, the vast majority of them for school services, saw significant problems for Damory. Dorset County Council was forced to operate some of its own vehicles and sub-contract in buses from rival operators, some of whom had lost work in the contract reshuffle, in order to maintain parts of the network.

Toni Coombs, Dorset’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Damory has been open in explaining the issues facing them in the implementation of this substantial new contract.

“Following detailed discussions, our managers have been assured by Damory that it has suitable plans in place to correct the problems and improve performance.

“We are also launching an internal investigation into the issues we’ve had with the transition to this new contract.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe.