The number of remaining UK municipal bus operators dwindles even further following the surprise news of Swindon’s local council selling its bus operation and depot to the Newcastle based Go-Ahead Group…
After 113 years of continuous public service to a town that’s synonymous with public transport, Swindon Borough Council (SBC) has sold its Thamesdown Bus operation to the fourth largest big bus groups – Go Ahead.
In what is believed to be a deal that was first initiated and completed behind closed doors in record time also includes all of the assets, drivers and routes. The bright and ultra modern Barnfield depot that features solar panels for power generation and the storing rainwater to assist in cleaning duties has also been purchased in a separate deal.
The current fleet of 85 vehicles and operational staff are to continue unchanged although some key and senior level staff changes have already taken place. Financial pressure on SBC to provide better services at a time where central Government provides less support along with the bus company posting losses in recent years has forced the decision to sell.
An engineering source close to Autobritannia told us: “A couple of years back we made some rather nasty losses to the tune of around half a million pounds, the writing was on the wall from then on” continuing he stated: “Its been really tough since 2015 there was simply no way the council could or was going to provide assistance in taking on this history of what we call accumulative losses“.
It wasn’t a decision taken lightly… from the councils point of view, we simply didn’t have the resources available to continue our support and pledge future investment to Thamesdown in the same manner we had recently done over the past few years”
David Renard leader of Swindon Borough Council
Leader of SBC, Dave Renard, said: “It was not a decision that was taken lightly as the local community and ourselves are proud of Thamesdown. Sadly though, there was no way in this current tight financial climate things could continue. Thamesdown is a solid and viable business but from the councils point of view we simply didn’t have the resources to continue our support to Thamesdown in the same manner we had recently down in the past few years”.
Thamesdown Managing Director Paul Jenkins left the company barely minutes after the ink had dried on the sale documents. He has been replaced by Alex Chutter who will operate as General Manager reporting to the regional head office of Go – South Coast Managing Director Andy Whickham.
It was also reported that the sale process had to be kept under tight wraps. Rival operator Stagecoach who also have a satellite depot based in the Wiltshire town also operates around a quarter of the local public custom. As has been the case in similar situations in other areas, predatory tactics to undermine or devalue rival bus operators has taken place. This successful sale of Thamesdown is good news for all concerned.
The sell out to Go-Ahead guarantees future investment, employment and forward planning of the company. Its a tough world for municipal operated bus companies and I wouldn’t be shocked to see other operations following suit as local councils battle with the balance sheets. Also worthy of note is the continuing usage of the Thamesdown branding, so as far as Swindons 180,000+ population matters it should be business as usual.