THREATS made by bus operator Stagecoach to pull out of Tyne and Wear are just scaremongering, according to a Wearside MP.
Sir Brian Souter, chairman of the firm, which has a bus depot in Dundas Street in Monkwearmouth, says he will axe 500 bus services and close four depots if a proposed scheme to place routes in the hands of local authorities comes into force.
Under the plans, transport group Nexus is putting together what is expected to be the UK’s first quality contract, a move meaning only buses with a council contract could operate in Tyne and Wear.
The plans would introduce a similar system to that in London, in which Stagecoach operates at a profit.
All buses would be branded the same, with local authorities setting fares, timetables and routes.
Speaking at a bus conference, as reported in Passenger Transport magazine, Sir Brian said: “We are dealing with a bunch of unreconstructed Stalinists who are completely driven by political dogma.
“The first contract that 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.”
But Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson said staff would simply be transferred to another operator, as they are protected by law.
“Bus drivers and engineers working for Stagecoach would have greater job protection through transfer arrangements under the proposed quality contract scheme than they do presently,” she told the Echo.
“This is just another announcement in a campaign from Stagecoach that has been characterised by scaremongering and negative tactics.
“We need a bus system that works in the best interests of local people and offers better value for the taxpayer.”
A Stagecoach spokesman said: “Nexus’s bus contracts would mean fares rises for customers, higher council tax bills and put the jobs and pensions of bus workers at risk.
“That is why we have been working hard to ensure local people fully understand the serious implications of bus contracts.
“Thousands of bus passengers and employees have signed our petition against the Nexus plans, and we believe we are winning the argument.
“People should not forget that when the transport authority in Tyne and Wear sold its bus operations in the late 1980s, it benefited financially and used the money it received to fund the Metro. Now, it wants to change the system without paying for it.
“It is business as usual at our bus operation in the North East, including Sunderland.
“We are continuing to support hundreds of jobs in the region, offer low fares to bus passengers and reinvest millions of pounds in improving services. In fact, we have just put 21 brand new buses into Sunderland and placed an order for a further 40 gas buses.
“Bus operators, including Stagecoach, have put forward partnership proposals which will meet the aspirations of people in Tyne and Wear for an even better bus network more quickly and at lower cost than a flawed and expensive contracts system.”
Nexus came up with the proposed plans amid concerns that the current bus network does not do enough to justify a multi-million-pound council subsidy.
Council transport officials have said that without the takeover, they are likely to axe school buses, concessionary fares and some Metro discounts.
Bus companies have consulted lawyers on fighting the plans, which Nexus says could be in place by 2015.