Group consults staff over close plans for three bus depots


giles_fearnleyGiles Fearnley: ‘we have been unable to make the progress we were seeking’


FirstGroup has announced a restructuring exercise at some of its underperforming UK bus operations that are likely to see the group close three depots later this year.

Subject to staff consultation, operations at Bracknell, home to around 50 buses, would cease on August 28 with some routes, including Greenline-branded services to London and Legoland, retained and moved to First’s existing Slough depot. As part of the move First has already concluded a deal to sell one route linking Bracknell and Reading to council-owned operator Reading Buses (see story below).

Meanwhile, First has also announced proposals to close its Hereford and Newcastle-under-Lyme depots on September 5.

In Hereford, First says that just 3,500 passengers per day use its local network, served by 20 vehicles, and it therefore plans to withdraw completely from the area. In the Potteries First proposes to combine its Newcastle-under-Lyme depot, home to 65 buses, with its nearby Stoke Adderley Green depot.

First said it remains committed to running a significant fleet in the Potteries in the long term and will remain a major employer, but operating two depots in such close proximity is no longer a viable option. In both Bracknell and Hereford, given the volume of other bus operators in the area, First said it was confident that customers shouldn’t be left without a service.

The group says that in the wake of challenging local economies, reductions in external funding and insufficient passenger demand, difficult decisions had to be reached in order to sustain the long term future of its local businesses.

Giles Fearnley, managing director of First’s UK bus division, said: “In 2012 we launched our transformation plan which has seen great success in a huge number of our local businesses, as we reported at our full year results earlier in June. We continue to see passenger and revenue growth across the business and we have a wide range of actions to be implemented throughout this year to further benefit our customers and maintain growth. However, despite all the hard work, we have been unable to make the progress we were seeking in Bracknell, Hereford and in some parts of the Potteries.

“Whilst these proposals are disappointing, we simply must ensure our local businesses are on a sustainable and solid footing in order that we maintain the momentum of change toward meeting our medium term financial targets and therefore protect jobs in the long term. Regrettably, we see no alternative, but to close these depots.”

First confirmed that it has started the collective consultation process with trade unions on the possibility of redundancies at all three depots, with a combined 222 jobs ‘at risk’.

“Should the proposals go ahead we will be doing everything that we can to assist those affected,” added Fearnley.


Reading snaps up First Berkshire route

First Berkshire route to transfer to municipal firm

Council-owned operator Reading Buses has announced that it is to take on operation of First Berkshire’s route 90 between Reading and Bracknell from July 26. The announcement follows confirmation by FirstGroup that it is consulting with staff over the closure of its Bracknell operations.

The route is currently operated with 11 vehicles and Reading says that up to 20 drivers from First will be offered the opportunity to join Reading.

It is anticipated that the municipal will relaunch the route later this year.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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