11 December 2014

Western Greyhound Sale Part 2

Western Greyhound deal safeguards 133 jobs

Following hard on the heels of the announcement on Sunday that Western Greyhound  has sold its Liskeard outstation operation to Go-Ahead subsidiary, Plymouth CityBus , Western Greyhound has announced the sale of the rest of the business in a deal that safeguards 133 jobs.

Michael Bishop , an entrepreneur from within the bus and coach industry, has purchased the entire share capital of Western Greyhound from MD Mark Howarth, his wife Mari and Robin Orbell.

Michael said: “I am so pleased that we were able to work with Mark and his team to purchase Western Greyhound. The company has a very exciting future ahead of it and will continue to be a well-respected local independent operator. We have identified areas of the business that would benefit from further development and investment to strengthen the commercial future of the company.”

Western Greyhound, which currently carries 2.7m passengers a year in Cornwall and Devon, will continue with 65 buses and 133 employees from its freehold Summercourt depot, together with a small leased outstation at Wadebridge.

Michael is appointed Managing Director, and joined by Adam Smith as General Manager. Mark Howarth will carry on as a consultant to the business for a period of time due to his extensive experience and knowledge.

Western Greyhound was publicly put up for sale a couple of months ago.

Mark Howarth said: “It is always sad to take the decision to sell a company that one has started and built up over a period of 16 years. However, we are all now in our sixties and it is time for new management and ideas to be introduced into the business. As a Board, we were all keen to ensure that we sold Western Greyhound as a going concern and that the jobs of our hard-working and loyal staff could be protected. The decision to split the sale was because many staff wanted to see Western Greyhound return to  a smaller, leaner and fitter operation.”

Western Greyhound was established in 1998 from scratch and quickly built up a reputation for innovation and quality, increasing frequencies, turning loss-making rural routes round through regular clock-face timetables and all-day, seven day a week quality operations on core routes. It was a regular year-on-year industry award winner and grew at its peak to over 120 vehicles. It encountered difficulties in recent years with massive cuts in Concessionary Fares reimbursement, a horrific arson attack destroying 35 buses at its Summercourt base, followed by a further fire destroying three buses in Liskeard, and flooding and bad weather during last winter which severely disputed services.

More recently Western Greyhound has suffered from aggressive competition, including for staff which has seen many leave the business, but has carried on despite all these difficulties.

Mark said: “These have been very difficult times and we apologise for any passengers who have been let down. We now move on and know that many passengers continue to support us as the small local operator and I thank everyone for that.”

He added: “On behalf of the Board, we are delighted with both these deals which will enable Western Greyhound to carry forward into the next phase of its development. I would like to publicly thank our incredibly loyal staff who have worked so hard under often extremely difficult circumstances, and I would like to thank the public and, indeed the rest of industry, for their loyal support over the past 16 years.”

Last week Western Greyhound confirmed that Plymouth Citybus had acquired its services in the South East Cornwall area, safeguarding 31 bus driving jobs and continuing to run the Western Greyhound timetables that are currently in place from Monday 8th December.

Financial terms for both deals have not been disclosed.

The challenge ahead

When you look at the two distinct operations that have been sold this week, you have to say that Plymouth Citybus have the easiest job. They have purchased a fully compliant low floor fleet to run the services and don't face too much competition at the moment. True the 576 competes with First's 76 between Plymouth and Launceston but that's about it. The new owners face a resurgent First operation that has already introduced new services against Western Greyhound and has more already lined up for the new year. The new owners seem to be fairly successful at the moment but have had difficulties with some of its operations in the past. Country Liner Sussex Ltd went into administration at very short notice in October 2012. Adam Smith, the new General Manager has also had his brush with the law only being spared because jobs at newly purchased Black Velvet Travel depended on him. I don't know that much about Buses Excetera but it certainly appears to be a well run operation and has a distinctive style. Hopefully that style will also flow across to the new business and the new owners can start to rebuild the business. They also have a fair amount of fleet replacement to contend with.

I wish the new owners well and I hope that they can bring Western Greyhound back to its former glory when it really was an industry leader. It wasn't that long ago that most of us wondered if First would bother with Cornwall at all as WG gradually took over routes which were being abandoned by First at an alarming rate. That is clearly no longer the case. The Cornish bus scene is going to be very interesting over the coming year indeed.

Buses Excetera PVL175 on Route 27, Kensington

Buses Excetera S25ETC seen in Kingston on route 27 back in February 2014

Photo credit: © Au Morandarte under Creative Commons Licence.
F309 MYJ

Black Velvet F309MYJ back in 2011. Another well presented and respected fleet which fell into hard times and has been rescued by Bishop & Smith.

Photo credit: © Hamster! under Creative Commons Licence.

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  1. See my post from September for more on Adam Smith: http://sotonbus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/guilty-but-free-thanks-to-purple-get.html Will Western Greyhound be another get out of jail free card?

    1. Having only a brief experience on riding on an Excetera decker on rail replacement I was impressed by the presentation of the vehicle,helpful staff & general organisation on the ground,they certainly have the potential to turn things around.

  2. I'd love to be a 'fly-on-the-wall' in the Board Room at First Kernow today. But even without any inside knowledge the coming year in Cornwall will be very interesting to watch as the new equilibrium - whatever that may ultimately be - establishes itself.

    1. As is often said, you reap what you sow..... FK has gone for someone aggressively prompting this sale.

      Have they just made their first wrong move?

    2. First hold every major contract for years ahead, have sorted their commercial network, got their fares right, aren't complaining about concessionary fares or tender prices, and have taken their maintenance wholly back in house from Plymouth. their passenger numbers are up and still rising. If the info from within trusted sources is true they have turned Kernow from making a substantial loss to making a good profit in just over a year. Also that they are about to start the next stage of their changes which will see the presentation and marketing of their business transformed. They have a stable business that is profitable and their contract base is secure. I doubt they'll be worried - more likely they'll be very pleased that WG hasn't been bought by a group, which could well be because they registered competing services with WG before the sale was announced. Being entirely pedantic there isn't a First Kernow board - it's First Devon and Cornwall - and I don't believe they have a boardroom. I'm not even sure that the senior team even have an office in their new lean efficient business model - all very un First!

    3. A secure contract base? We've learned that contracts are as secure as their notice period.

      Which is anything between 4 weeks to 3 months, or even 'mutual' on both sides. WGL had 5 year contracts which were called in during 2011 as 'the council had no money'. Bit of a problem when you've invested in new fleet to service these contracts. FDC then won those contracts and serviced them with fleet that was nearing the end of its economic life. Very clever but hardly an example of innovative thinking nor a long term strategy. Cornwall isn't playing that game any longer - and I'd be incredibly wary of expanding my fleet now using tendered work as the lynchpin, given the fondness of this 'Government' in cutting public spending.

      It would be a surprise to discover FDC doesn't have a boardroom. Certainly the Plymouth HO was built as such to support such overhead and would have such a room built within it. Big businesses such as this have reviews once a month of all depots and I doubt very much that FDC doesn't know about its costs and doesn't monitor them and seek to contain them.

      FDC needs to be turning a profit from Cornwall with the time that has been spent on it. I wish them well in their endeavours, the place has been so poorly managed that other firms have been permitted to make a lot of hay whilst the sun shone, whereas had they made more from what they had.

      We are still in the halo period of Alex Carter's stewardship of FDC. He has brought with him Marc Morgan Huws from his time at GSC, and we are yet to discover all the hidden costs (lots of not needed expensive Stenning liveries harking back to long dead Isle of Wight coach firms, lots of silly bet the farm tenders designed to remove all competition), plus the excesses that come with them both. ACs sole claim to fame at GSC is the 'more' network, plus loads of misdirection and best of all the 'Countywide' Dorset re tendering farce that claimed his job and that of others, not to mention the businesses removed from the market permanently.

      There was a similar period at GSC where both were new, before the halo most definitely slipped. Yes they very definitely need to prove themselves at FDC. Be a surprise if they'd not got the place to work by now, wouldn't it? So how will this pan out, how will this end for them? They've tried flattening WG and now it's sold to a new owner who might just get it working properly as it should be.

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  4. Michael Bishop and Adam Smith come with knowledge of operations in a very challenging bus environment. The London outer commuter belt has always been a struggle. In 1968 when London Transport country area was converted to London Country Bus Services Ltd the only working capital was £2 supplied by members of staff, one of which was to open a new bank account. It has seen the death of many companies including Tillingbourne and Countryliner of which they have experience. If they can apply what they have learn't to WG which is challenged more by the poor than by the wealthy then the challenged areas should get a decent service that the big groups can't take on. But it will always be on a knife edge and a washed out summer or other disaster could easily be too much. Good luck to them and to the people in Cornwall.

    1. They've got experience alright! We can just whether it's the right sort in the future, but the history of the companies they've been involved with doesn't instill confidence.

      I doubt if First Kernow are at all worried.


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