Franchising row erupts between McGill’s owners and Mayor

A disagreement has erupted between the owners of McGill’s Buses and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, over franchising.

The owner of Scotland’s biggest private bus company has criticised the Mayor’s offer to advise the Scottish Government on bus privatisation. However, the Mayor’s office hit back by claiming there are benefits to franchising that McGill’s ‘simply ignores or fails to understand’.

“I will fight this tooth and nail in the courts. This would be nothing more than business confiscation” – Sandy Easdale

Sandy Easdale, who jointly owns McGill’s Bus Group with his brother James, said: “Andy Burnham says he will advise SNP leader Humza Yousaf but he clearly doesn’t understand the dire financial dynamics we are facing in Scotland. He’s talking absolute nonsense.”

“I will fight this tooth and nail in the courts. This would be nothing more than business confiscation. I suggest Burnham works on his Labour leadership campaign south of the border and keeps his nose out of the Scottish bus industry of which he is totally ignorant.”

Mayor Burnham launched the first stage of the franchised Bee Network in Greater Manchester in September.

Sandy Easdale said: “It’s all very well for a Labour mayor to do a bit of Thatcher bashing but anyone who knows anything about the transport industry is aware that so much of this is smoke and mirrors.

“For example, before the franchises we saw Stagecoach, Go Ahead and Diamond Buses operate the bulk of services. After franchising we will still see Stagecoach, Go Ahead and Diamond Buses operate the bulk of services. They have swapped around depots, people and fleets like a huge tombola and at huge cost to the taxpayer. For what purpose? No extra services. No more buses. A ‘cheaper ticket’ introduced by central government that is actually the same price as everywhere else in England.”

(L to R) Ralph Roberts of McGills, Sandy Easdale and James Easdale

McGill’s CEO, Ralph Roberts, added: “What they have achieved is the following:

  • a more unreliable service;
  • buses all the same colour…eventually;
  • transferring the revenue risk to the taxpayer;
  • costing the taxpayer a lot of money to put all of this in place;
  • no better bus services;
  • journey times the same or worse due to congestion, roadworks and parking;
  • and bus operators will still make a profit which seemed to be the main issue when he was campaigning for the change.”

McGill’s Chairman, James Easdale, said: “Burnham wanted London-style control and London-style bus services. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing or brave enough to impose London-style decisions upon his voters. Things like ULEZ, congestion charges, parking regulations, bus priority levels and more are all in place in London to supress car use and create road space for the system to function. There is a political cost to pay for that and a Burnham wasn’t willing to risk it.

“A better result would have been achieved by allowing the operators to plan it and for his administration to sign it off. Instead, he started from scratch with an inexperienced team and the people of Manchester will be paying for the mess for many years to come.”

On the Bee Network, Ralph Roberts said: “It caused a huge TUPE transfer of drivers. There was already a shortage. The tenders did nothing with terms and conditions, unlike the hype in the run up. There was a lot of poaching of drivers in the run up, and after it went live a lot of drivers decided they didn’t like it and returned to their former employers. Cancellations have been rife both in the Bee Network and across the remainder of the Greater Manchester not yet franchised due to this.”

On vehicles he added: “Poor planning saw the 50 new electric buses initially being charged by generators. Vehicles were swapped around between companies like the drivers. Vehicle condition wasn’t uniform, and unreliability caused issues. Not enough pre-auditing and condition monitoring took place. There was lots of inexperience at play. Easy to say that they will not repeat this but it left people stood at bus stops for no reason, drivers not knowing their routes and little in the way of upside.”

Sandy Easdale said: “Burnham has offered his services to SNP leader Humza Yousaf but he surely must realise that it will probably very soon be Labour running Scotland under Anas Sarwar. The last thing Mr Sarwar needs is an ill-conceived bus franchising project that will place a huge burden on the taxpayer at a time when the country is in a financial black hole.

“The lesson in all of this is that if control of the services which are already in place is the end game the government needs to work with the industry rather than make an enemy of us. We know what we’re doing and can save them money with a lot less pain in the process.”

People before profit

The office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester has hit back after the McGill’s team made their claims.

“There are so many benefits to franchising that McGill’s simply ignores or fails to understand” – Spokesperson for the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham

A spokesperson for the Mayor said: “In Greater Manchester we have put people before profit by delivering a bus service that is accountable to those who use it, rather than being run for the benefit of shareholders.

“Before we brought buses under local control, operators were free to chop and change – or in many cases simply cut – bus services, and some bus fares cost twice as much as they do now.

“There are so many benefits to franchising that McGill’s simply ignores or fails to understand. We brought in the £2 cap and the Government followed us; we have earlier and later running and more frequent bus services; the quality of our buses has improved; they are now integrated through multi-modal, cheaper ticketing with our Metrolink tram system; and passengers have a voice that will be listened to.

“If the Scottish Government wants to go down the route of bus franchising, as we have done in Greater Manchester where we are putting customers first, we are happy to work with them.”

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