GMCA backs Burnham’s franchising plan

Andy Burnham

Greater Manchester Combined Authority has backed plans put forward by the region’s directly elected mayor, Andy Burnham, to become the first authority in England to use powers in the Bus Services Act 2017 to take control of bus services.

Last Friday, the authority voted to take the next step towards franchising – the appointment of an independent audit to review the mayor’s assessment of the future of the city’s bus market, which has recommended franchising as its preferred option.

Launching his ‘Our Network’ 10-year plan to create “an integrated, modern and accessible public transport system” last week, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “An important part of this is reforming our bus market.”

If bus franchising is introduced it would reverse the deregulated system that the Thatcher government introduced for buses across Britain in 1986 (apart from London), giving the mayor and Transport for Greater Manchester full control over network design and fares.

The region’s largest bus operator, Stagecoach Manchester, reasserted its opposition to franchising.

The mayor has provided no evidence to support his claim that franchising is better than a partnership approach and he is keeping Greater Manchester’s taxpayers in the dark about the massive bill they would have to pay for a London-style bus system,” a Stagecoach spokesman said.

However, the region’s newest operator, Go North West, has adopted a neutral stance on the franchising proposals.

FirstGroup coup fails, but chairman departs

Bus and train operator FirstGroup avoided an overhaul of its current board of directors after shareholders voted against proposals put forward by activist investor Coast Capital.

All of the resolutions put before an extraordinary general meeting in London on June 25 were defeated. On average, shareholders voted more than four to one against Coast’s resolutions.

Despite this defeat, chairman Wolfhart Hauser will step down from his role after the annual meeting on July 25. Around 29% of FirstGroup shareholders voted to remove the German businessman, who has served as chairman since July 2016.

FirstGroup acknowledged that more than 20% of shareholders voted in favour of several resolutions against the advice of its board, but the group is keeping faith with the strategy it announced on May 30. This plan will see the group exit the UK bus business, sell its Greyhound coach operation in North America and focus on its “core” contracted bus businesses in North America.

Council to probe First Aberdeen purchase

Aberdeen City Council members have unanimously backed an investigation into how the council could launch a bid to acquire FirstGroup’s bus operation in the city, now that the group is considering the sale of its UK bus operations.

Council co-leader Jenny Laing put forward an emergency motion seeking a report from officers on how it would bid for the business. It gained unanimous support, although she stressed it was still early days.

Any purchase would bring the bus operator back under council control. In 1989 Grampian Regional Transport was sold by the then Grampian Regional Council to a buyout team led by the operator’s management, headed by Moir Lockhead.

As one commentator noted, it is the acorn from which the FirstGroup oak tree grew. The group now generates most of its revenues in North America, but it still has its registered headquarters in the city.

About the Author

This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.

Robert Jack

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