First Buses under fire

SUFFOLK'S largest bus operator has been threatened with the cancellation of some of its school contracts because of reliability problems, The Evening Star can reveal today.

SUFFOLK'S largest bus operator has been threatened with the cancellation of some of its school contracts because of reliability problems, The Evening Star can reveal today.

First Group has been given a final warning about the service it provides taking some pupils to and from schools in the county.

And other operators have been approached by Suffolk County Council to see if they could step in if First's contracts are terminated.

A spokeswoman for the county said contracts were for a specific period, and they were constantly kept under the spotlight to see how they were performing.

But she could not say if any specific schools had been facing problems.

She said: "We have contracts with bus operators across the whole county providing home to school transport for around 20,000 young people .

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"We continually monitor these services and work closely with contractors to ensure that the best possible standards are maintained at all times."

The Star understands that at least one other major operator has been contacted to see if they could step in.

A spokesman for First said the company was aware of the problems with some school services and it was hoped that the situation would soon be eased as a new engineering manager had now been employed.

He said: "We are aware of the situation and we have been discussing it with officials from Suffolk County Council.

"But we understand the county council's concerns and they are quite within their rights to raise the issue with us."

The news comes as First Group in East Anglia faces the threat of strike action from its drivers in a dispute about pay.

Drivers have been offered a pay rise of 1.6 per cent – but have lodged a claim for a six pc increase.

Talks between the two sides have broken down, and now the drivers' union, the Transport and General Union, is considering whether to call for a strike ballot.

However a spokesman for the bus company said industrial action was still some way away.

A driver, who did not wish to be named, said: "The reason for the ballot would be that there has been no movement on discussions about this year's annual pay award.

"The management was refusing to speak to unions and wrote to drivers in their homes by-passing the unions."

Are school buses reliable enough? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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