First to shut three bus depots

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Bracknell, Hereford and  Newcastle-under-Lyme set to close

First Bus has announced plans to close three of its smaller depots – Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hereford and Bracknell later this year.

Under the proposals, which are subject to consultation, Bracknell will close August 28. Some routes will be retained but will operate from First’s depot in Slough, including Greenline services to London and Legoland. First Bus has also sold to Reading Buses its route 90, which operates between Reading and Bracknell.

First proposes to close Hereford and Newcastle-under-Lyme depots on September 5. The firm said “just 3,500 passengers per day” travel with First in Hereford, and therefore the company plans to withdraw completely from the area. In the Potteries, First plans to combine its Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke Adderley Green Depots, which are in close proximity.

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.

First said 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 Bus, 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’. The firm said that it will actively support any employee who would wish to transfer to other First operations. In addition, many members of staff in Bracknell will have opportunities to transfer to the Slough depot, Reading Buses or the new operator of Bracknell Forest Council’s contracted services, Courtney Buses.

Giles added: “We understand that our proposals will be very distressing for our employees. Our plans do not, in any way, reflect the commitment of affected colleagues, who have worked tirelessly to provide the best possible service to local communities. I’d like to thank them for their hard work and loyalty. Should the proposals go ahead we will be doing everything that we can to assist those affected, including the possibility of transferring colleagues to other First Bus operations.”

Employees affected by the proposals amount to around 1% of the total number of First Bus employees across the UK.