Stagecoach: the gloves come off over Nexus’ Quality Contracts

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Sir Brian Souter threatens to withdraw 500 buses and four depots if controversial Quality Contract plan is implemented

Protracted argument and discussion over the continued stance taken by regional transport authority Nexus to forge ahead with Quality Contract plans for services in the North East has brought things to a head.

Stagecoach chairman Sir Brian Souter said he would not work for a council controlled bus network in Tyne and Wear and has threatened to withdraw 500 Stagecoach services and close local depots.

Council-backed plans support Nexus in putting together Quality Contracts in which only buses with a council-contract can operate – similar to the system operated in London – where all buses are branded the same, with local authorities setting fares, time tables and routes. Nexus accuses operators of not doing enough to justify the amount of subsidy handed to them by the council.

Local bus companies have consulted lawyers about fighting these plans, which Nexus said could be in place by 2015. Speaking recently at a bus conference, Sir Brian said: “They sold the bus companies to us in the first place, knowing what the system was. They took the money off us, we bought it in good faith.

“We have invested in it every year. We have, I think, had one day or two days industrial stoppage in the two decades that we have been running it.

“We are dealing with a bunch of unreconstructed Stalinists who are completely driven by political dogma.

“The first contract they put out on my business I’m out of Tyne and Wear completely and they can buy 500 buses and find four bus depots. And when they do that, they’ll find that what I am delivering with my 500 buses and my four bus depots, and my fantastic workforce, is actually very good value for money.

“That’s why I am so hard on the issue, because unless you’re prepared to be as robust as that, then you’ll have your business taken off you incrementally. They’ll pick the bits they want and you’ll be left with a carcass, and I’m not waiting around to watch it happen.”

Wearside MP Bridget Phillip leading a campaign for better bus services, has backed the plans for introducing QCs. She said: “From the start, Stagecoach’s opposition has been characterised by scaremongering and negative tactics. Under Quality Contracts, they would be free to bid to run routes exactly as they do in London.

“Mr Souter’s sole concern is to defend his inflated profit margins in the region. We need a bus system that works in the best interests of local people.”

Nexus claims its proposals for QCs present an opportunity to provide better bus services while saving the taxpayer £70m over the next 10 years.