01 December 2009

Go Ahead Plymouth

City Council to sell Plymouth Citybus (continued)

CITYBUS will be sold off today after city councillors approved a £20.2million deal with the nation-wide operator Go-Ahead. In a debate marked by angry exchanges, councillors voted 24 to 17 in favour of the controversial sale. Union members staged a protest outside the Council House yesterday afternoon as councillors arrived. Council leader Vivien Pengelly said: “There will be no more speculation or scaremongering.” She said Citybus would keep its identity, and staff would keep their jobs with improved benefits including the option to join Go-Ahead’s sharesave scheme. Labour leader Tudor Evans said: “You are voting to put a nail in the coffin of municipal bus services in this city. These Tories can’t be trusted with other people’s assets and other people’s money.

A report to councillors said the bus depot at Milehouse was worth £3million “in its existing use”. The deal with Go-Ahead allows the council to claw back any profits from selling off the land. Challenged by Labour over why Citybus should be sold off so quickly, Mrs Pengelly said it was to protect the company from commercial challenges from its rivals. “First has already started on the core routes. We always thought it could happen and we are ahead of the game.” She said that the council in Chester had allowed a year for selling off its bus company, and by the end of that time it was worth “hardly anything”.

Cabinet member Glenn Jordan (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood) said Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, had said that councils should be selling off assets. “If you lot were in power, what would you sell off?” he asked Labour councillors. “You would sell off everything including the kitchen sink. “We can’t afford to invest what Go-Ahead is intending to invest. If you say we can, I want to know what services you want to cut,” Mr Jordan said.
Grant Monahan (Con, Budshead), the Cabinet member for children and young people, said that Go-Ahead was guaranteeing that school bus routes would be protected for at least three years. “We haven’t got any promise at all from Citybus.” Sue McDonald (Lab, St Peter and the Waterfront) said: “You promised that no routes would be cut for six months. That’s because you have already cut them.” Mr Evans said that Mrs Pengelly had previously said she would not sell Citybus. “This deal robs the taxpayer of a valuable resource and puts unnecessary pressure on the council’s budget. “Alarm bells should be ringing. It’s going to result in people losing their jobs.” Mark Lowry (Lab, Honicknowle) said: “Citybus is a well run company. It’s not clapped-out. Why are we selling such a well run company in the middle of a recession?”
This is Plymouth

It is clear that the political fall out of this will drag on for a while. As to how much it will affect the next council elections remains to be seen as by then most people will have moved on and they will have other things on their mind. What is clear is that Go Ahead will have to go on a charm offensive in Plymouth to reassure people that all will be well under their ownership. It is clear that it will be business as usual for quite a while as the company have already agreed to give the council more notice of any changes to routes than is strictly necessary. Go Ahead have already pointed out that they have a new livery 'in mind' to freshen up the fleet and introduce the new order to Plymouth so I expect that will probably be the first sign of new ownership for most passengers. I guess they will also be quite keen to introduce new vehicles into the fleet as soon as possible to show their intentions to passengers. Go Ahead seem to have the best reputation of the bigger national bus groups and their commitment to strong local branding means that the Plymouth Citybus fleet wont disappear under a bland national identity which is certainly a good thing. We will be watching them very closely over the coming months - as I am sure may other will to!Plymouth Citybus 144 WA08LDZ (by didbygraham)
Further Reading

Omnibuses: In 10 Words Each
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