Obituary – George William Cottham (Bill) 1944-2021

It has been announced that Bill Cottham has died in Portugal at the age of 76. Having lived for many years with Parkinson’s Disease, Bill died of pneumonia caused by Covid-19. Bill was a key figure in the public transport industry in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bill Cottham was born in Liverpool in 1944 and, after leaving school at the age of 15, he joined Liverpool Corporation Transport Department as a messenger boy and then an engineering apprentice. In the early days of Bill’s career, friends and colleagues would have known him by his family name of George.

Whilst working in the bus industry, Bill was awarded a first class degree in engineering from Liverpool University and he quickly progressed to senior positions at St Helens, Newport and Cleveland Transit. Over the years, Bill continued to develop his skills, gaining a degree in law from the University of London and joining Gray’s Inn.

In 1983 he was appointed as Director General of West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and led the development of the PTE to become a free standing commercial company – Yorkshire Rider, owned by the Passenger Transport Authority on the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986.

Bill was concerned that competition from the newly privatised and deregulated bus companies could undermine the viability of Yorkshire Rider under PTA ownership and was instrumental in planning and leading the buyout of Yorkshire Rider, the first of its kind in the local authority sector. The buyout took the form of an Employee Share Ownership Plan, unique in the industry at the time, which was fully supported by both politicians and trade unions. This structure was later replicated in employee buyouts in other local authorities.

During his time at Yorkshire Rider, Bill became President of The Bus and Coach Council, the bus industry trade association.

Yorkshire Rider was later sold to Badgerline (now FirstGroup Plc) in 1994 to further strengthen the future of the business.

Bill retired from full time employment after the sale of Yorkshire Rider and became Chairman of CentreWest in London from 1995 until 1998. He and his wife Joan spent their retirement between their homes in Nevis, Florida and Portugal.

Bill Cottham was a charismatic figure, a natural leader with a strong innovative and decisive approach to the bus business, but with a humanity and warm sense of humour which won him many friends throughout the industry. He was well respected and greatly admired by his colleagues. His negotiation, communication and presentational skills were exceptional. Bill was always great fun and great company. One of his favourite quotes was “The only mistake I ever made was when I thought I’d made a mistake and I hadn’t.”

Throughout his career, Bill was always supported by his wife, Joan, and our condolences go out to Joan, his daughters Nicki and Sarah and his four grandchildren.

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