‘The Bus Service we need will Not be Delivered this way’ Says Town Labour Leader

Brian Smedley ‘Outrageous decision by First Bus’

Despite a week of campaigning, people taking to the streets, anger from workers, unions and councillors alike and calls for an eleventh hour meeting to save the Bridgwater Bus Depot, First Bus South Managing Director Simon Goff has simply ignored everything and everyone and said the Bridgwater Bus depot will close. Goff said “We have taken the difficult decision to close our Bridgwater depot with immediate effect from this weekend. We are operating in extremely challenging circumstances, with rising costs. And while passenger numbers are increasing on some routes, due to current fare promotion schemes, they are still below pre-Covid levels, which is affecting the viability of routes.” Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley had called for an urgent meeting to prevent the closure. He was backed in this by County Leader Cllr Bill Revans and County Labour Leader Cllr Leigh Redman. Cllr Smedley said “Mr Goff said he would meet and we cleared the calendar to do this but he had no intention of meeting before the closure and no intention of not closing down the depot. This decision is NOT driven by necessity it’s a commercial choice to maximise profit and the workers and the public , who we want to encourage to use the buses, are just collateral damage. This is the legacy of the privatised bus service that the Tories left us and people like Mr Goff who will claim they’re making ‘commercial decisions’ will be allowed to do so whilst ignoring the people, the workers, their unions and their elected representatives. We will only change this by bringing in a Government that commits to public ownership and properly funds an integrated transport system and private speculators are confined to the Casino!”

County Leader Bill Revans calls for a meeting ignored

Mr Goff said First Bus South will continue to work closely with Somerset Council to deliver bus services for customers in the county. However, this promise fell at the first hurdle as County Leader Cllr Bill Revans had also called for a meeting to prevent the closure and was totally ignored. Cllr Revans had asked “Specific concerns are the ability to maintain your fleet safely, when the work moves to Minehead, Taunton, Wells and Weston-super-Mare Depots. Can you please offer assurance that First group plc Buses South has sufficient maintenance facilities in Somerset for its fleet and operating centres with just Taunton as a base, after shutting down the major facilities with pits and lifts in Bridgwater. I am told the Minehead and Yeovil depots  have more limited maintenance facilities.

Offer of a meeting ‘after the event’ – ‘not a lot of use’

Simon Goff from First simply ignores everyone

Mr Goff said  “As a result of the closure, there will be some changes to timetables from 3 September” and instead offered a meeting once the bus depot had been closed down. Cllr Smedley said “Well, it sounds like a meeting after the event is ‘not a lot of use’ but we will meet because it’s important that First know the level of public anger at their decisions. They didn’t properly consult on this – and County was very slow to respond with the portfolio Holder Mike Rigby not even being at the meeting. The Bridgwater Transport Forum is the most local body that has been constantly dealing with all forms of transport locally and we are insisting that Mr Goff meets with them at once and continues this engagement before something else drastic and unwanted by the people of Bridgwater happens before we’re asked. There’s no doubt that this closure  is outrageous and nobody local wanted it, but so long as Bus companies are in the hands of the Private sector they can claim any number of ‘business’ excuses above ‘public need’. That has to change.”

Workers See Red

Trades Council Secretary Dave Chapple addresses the well attended public demo

Dave Chapple of Bridgwater Trades Union Council had written angrily to Mr Goff during the week preceding closure and had organised the demo on Saturday 26 August which achieved much media coverage. In it Dave had asked further questions about possible closures at Yeovil and of the involvement in the closure of SPS the HPC bus providers, but had received no answers. However, Mr Chapple made it clear that he had no intention of meeting with Mr Goff saying  “I am declining the invitation to meet with you, received indirectly via a TV News Broadcast, as you made it clear that any meeting would not change the decision to close the depot this coming weekend. As you may agree, to accept patronage demeans the intelligence of the patron and the patronised. “

Dave Chapple’s letter to Simon Goff in full

To: Simon Goff

From: Dave Chapple

Re: Closure of Bridgwater Bus depot/cuts to Bridgwater area services

Mr Goff,

Brian Smedley has kindly copied me into his letter to you, and your reply of 24th August.

Eastover Town Councillor Tony Heywood lobbies a bus traveller

I note, in passing, that you ignored Brian’s key point that, at a Somerset Council consultation meeting First had admitted that passenger numbers on the key 21/21a route had considerably increased. Why did you ignore this?

  • Can you confirm or deny the rumour that you have also decided to close the Yeovil Bus depot? If your answer is yes, can you explain why this double closure was not announced to the Somerset Bus Advisory Board on 25th July?
  • Can you confirm or deny the rumour that you are offering the to-be-closed Bridgwater Board Road Depot to 100% First Group-owned Somerset Passenger Services? If your answer is yes, can to explain this decision, and how it fits in with your ‘transparent’ approach to staff and councillors?
Cllr Brian Smedley at the demo alongside protestor Linda Wheatley

I’d like to challenge your comment that: “We have been transparent…….” In respect of the following:

  • That at the Somerset Bus Advisory Board meeting of 25th July, “In the main, our plans were well supported, and Somerset Council commented on our open and honest approach.”

I have read the minutes of that meeting, and there is no minute that can confirm this positive comment. Indeed, the three comments that were made about the Bridgwater closure were all negative: 1. That “the bus advisory board should have been consulted on the closure”; 2. “Concern for the welfare of drivers who have been using the Bridgwater depot for breaks; 3. “It was disappointing that the Bridgwater Depot was closing.”

Nowhere do these minutes include this ‘open and honest approach.’ How can you justify your comments, in the light of the actual minutes?

  • At the same meeting, you stated that the depot would close at the end of September. Why has that date now been brought forward to 3rd September? Why the undue haste?
  • Why have you not revealed the exact figures, to justify your assertion that current operating costs exceed passenger revenue? Even if the Somerset Bus Advisory Board has not asked for these figures, I am now asking you to give them to me, making clear what timescales you are using.
  • You have written that “removing Bridgwater depot will help to ensure we are better positioned for future sustainability and growth and loner-term protection of jobs”
Cllr Tim Mander alongside Unite Community member Andy Mitchell

We are well used to such comments from extremely profitable commercial public service operations that seek to maximise profit at the expense of services, but, in line with your apparent belief in your own “open, honest, transparent” approach, how does closing an important maintenance depot, and losing maybe 25 drivers to SPS, position First Bus Somerset for growth?

  • In your staff ‘consultation’ letter, you state that “We are disappointed we are proposing to close the Bridgwater depot, but, regrettably, we see no alternative.” But, nine bullet points later, you state: “…we will carefully consider any reasonable alternatives put forward by any affected party.”

These statements are obviously contradictory: how do you account for both being included?  Leaving aside a temptation that your offer to consider a reasonable alternative was cynical or tokenism at best, why was this offer not put to the Somerset Council via its Bus Advisory Board meeting of 25th July? Is your decision to bring forward the closure from the end of September to 3rd September linked with embarrassment or regret at your offer to consider an alternative?

At the eleventh hour, Bridgwater Trades Union Council is asking you to honour your offer to consider any reasonable alternative, stop the depot closure on 3rd September, and give Somerset Council and the RMT union a stay of execution on the closure-I suggest two months- to give them time to provide an alternative to the closure of the Bridgwater Depot for you to consider.

‘Save our Depot’ demo

Finally, as the organiser of Saturday’s Bridgwater Bus Station protest, I am declining the invitation to meet with you, received indirectly via a TV News Broadcast, as you made it clear that any meeting would not change the decision to close the depot this coming weekend. As you may agree, to accept patronage demeans the intelligence of the patron and the patronised.   

What I would appreciate, Mr Goff, are “transparent, open and honest” answers to the points I have made, and, in particular, will you postpone the closure to allow for your own stated allowance for  alternatives to be considered?

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Richard Morgan
7 months ago

Please join the Bridgwater Area Bus Group if you’d like to help save and improve bus services in Bridgwater

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