Big profits despite 'grotty' buses

TRANSPORT giant First Group – which runs Eastern Counties buses in Suffolk and Norfolk – today announced a big profits boost.However the news has not gone down well among passengers in this area who have complained about poor service on "grotty" buses.

TRANSPORT giant First Group - which runs Eastern Counties buses in Suffolk and Norfolk - has announced a big profits boost.

However the news has not gone down well among passengers in this area who have complained about poor service on "grotty" buses.

And, as reported in later editions of The Evening Star yesterday, it has emerged that the managing director of Eastern Counties was sacked last month because he hadn't increased profits enough.

John Pope was also reluctant to accept a new fleet of buses sent to the region from Glasgow because he didn't feel they were good enough.

These revelations come on the day that First Group - which runs rail services as well as buses - announced profits increased by nine per cent in the six months to the end of September.

Mr Pope, who had run Eastern Counties since November last year, left the company suddenly at the end of last month.

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Industry sources today told The Evening Star that his bosses had told him they liked much of what he had done in the region but profits in East Anglia had not improved sufficiently so he would have to leave his job.

One public transport expert said: "He has been a scapegoat. John Pope knows the business inside out, but the men in suits at First Group headquarters felt he wasn't doing enough to squeeze the profits."

Another reason Mr Pope fell out with his bosses was his refusal to use the ex-Glasgow buses.

A company source said: "He felt they weren't up to the job - and I think he had concerns about their safety, but he was told they had to come here."

Mr Pope himself has not discussed his departure with the press - and the company has refused to comment on it.

However First Group spokesman Stuart Bugg said it was ridiculous to suggest it would use vehicles which were unsafe.

"We never ever make any compromises with safety - that is our absolute top priority," he said.

"However there are engineering problems from time to time, and we are investing a considerable amount of money to try to bring all our divisions up the standards of our best-performing areas.

"That is a key element of our attempts to improve our services - although there will always be some engineering problems which show up, any car driver knows that their vehicle sometimes needs attention," he said.

Passengers in Suffolk have complained about buses not running and about severe staffing shortages.

Mr Bugg said: "Recruitment is difficult at the moment because there is a very bouyant jobs market and in parts of the country there is effectively no unemployment.

"We are recruiting locally, and in other parts of the country we are recruiting drivers from further afield - even from abroad.

"In the Bristol and Bath area we have recruited about 50 drivers from Poland, although there are no plans for that kind of scheme in the eastern counties at present," he said.

What do you think of Eastern Counties buses? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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