Insurance-related financial  issues see Western Greyhound collapse as FirstGroup makes a grab for the bulk of the operator’s network in Cornwall

 

First has leased former Western Greyhound vehicles (Picture: Dave Godley)

 

FirstGroup has swooped on the network of Western Greyhound, just days after the Cornish independent bus operator was forced to cease all operations.

The Summercourt-based operator ceased all operations on the morning of March 13 after failing to secure continued insurance for its fleet of vehicles.

It is understood that the firm’s insurers were insisting on an up-front payment in order to continue providing cover.

The collapse of the business comes just three months after its rescue by bus industry entrepreneur Michael Bishop (PT098), who assumed the role of managing director.

In a letter issued to staff Bishop explained that he and his team had worked hard “to stabilise the company”, but financially it was not in a position to make a heavy  up-front contribution towards the cost of insurance cover.

“I have tried my very best to save the company and I know you have all put everything into this and I would like to thank you for everything you have all done,”
he added.

The RMT union expressed fury at the collapse as it had met with Bishop and his colleagues just the day before the operator ceased trading. “Either the management were lying to the union, or those in negotiations were as in the dark about problems with the business as front-line staff,” said RMT general secretary Mick Cash.

The collapse of the business has seen FirstGroup working with Cornwall Council to take on much of the independent’s network. Revised and improved timetables, including emergency timetables to incorporate many services previously operated by Western Greyhound, were introduced on March 16.

In addition the operator has leased a number of vehicles previously used by Western Greyhound and taken on over 30 members of the independent’s staff as part of the expansion.

“Our first priority is to ensure that Cornwall bus customers continue to benefit from a good bus service,” said Alex Carter, the managing director of First’s bus operations in the south west.

“I’m pleased that following really positive talks with our Cornwall Council partners, we’ve put in place an enhanced timetable up to May 25 which covers those services previously operated by Western Greyhound. And of course we’ll continue to accept Western Greyhound tickets on all our services.

“In the meantime, we’re working closely with Cornwall Council about the long term future of bus services in the area. Indeed we’re already working up plans with council officials to run extra services during the summer period when demand for public transport is set to soar.”

Meanwhile, Western Greyhound has been called to appear at a public inquiry by Sarah Bell, the western traffic commissioner. The inquiry had been due to take place this week, but has been adjourned to a later date yet to be determined.

 

Co-founder reacts:

Mark Howarth, who together with his wife Mari and Robin Orbell started Western Greyhound in 1997, told Passenger Transport that he was very sad to hear that the business had collapsed.

“For many years, we had a wonderful team who worked very hard building a great company to a very high standard which was well-acclaimed,” Howarth said.

He added that the under new ownership he was hopeful that there would be investment and “a return to those traditional high standards”. Howarth described the decision by the insurers to seek up-front payment as “gut-wrenching”.

“I do hope there can now be some stability in the market and that all the staff find suitable jobs,” he concluded.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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