Bus firm facing court action

Philip Higgs
Philip Higgs

A bus company which axed a rural route just 11 days after taking it over could face court action.

Villagers between Preston and Fleetwood say Classic Bus North West abandoned their “lifeline” service before Christmas, leaving them stranded.

A campaign has begun to have the hourly buses restored.

But now Lancashire County Council has revealed it will be lodging a complaint with the traffic commissioner and also considering legal action against the company for breach of contract.

“We hope the county council acts quickly because it is totally unacceptable to leave villages like ours without any public transport,” said Coun Phil James, chairman of the Inskip-with-Sowerby Parish Council.

“We are very angry about what has happened to our bus service, particularly with the county council awarding the contract to a company which only managed to run it for 11 days.

“It begs the question, what sort of financial checks were made before it was awarded?

“Morally we feel the county has a duty to sustain some sort of service for villages like Inskip and Catforth.

“We have no alternative. We are completely bus-less and that is very worrying for people who rely on the buses to get to the doctor’s or to a hospital appointment.

County councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, has written to the villagers, saying CBNW’s suspension of the service within 11 days was in contravention of rules which require a minimum 56-day notice period.

“We will now be making a formal complaint to the traffic commissioner – and we will be considering taking legal action due to breach of contract through the courts.”

Meanwhiles bosses at CBNW have admitted it will have to axe jobs because of financial difficulties.

The bus had only just taken control of the route from Lancashire County Council on December 9 after a previous subsidised service was ended by the authority.

Since then, workers at the firm have claimed half of the company’s 30 drivers have lost their jobs, with some saying they are still owed money.

But Philip Higgs, the owner of CBNW, said in a statement that while there would be job losses the figure would be much less than claimed.

However, he admitted financial difficulties had affected the company’s “ability to keep pace with payroll obligations.”

Staff were given the letters at the end of their shifts confirming CBNW would cease to run its 80 service with immediate effect.

The service had been running seven days a week, with the county council subsidising evening and Sunday services between Poulton and Preston.

Mr Higgs said that CBNW was forced to cease trading after a meeting with the finance company which underwrites its Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) financial standing, but denied claims about job losses, saying redundancy figures were not as high as suggested.

He added: “We regret having to terminate service 80 at such short notice, but we could not continue to operate since to do so would could have invalidated insurance and our licence obligations.

“The decision was taken against a background of increasing amounts owed to the business and losses on the bus refurbishment side of the company.

“That affected cash flow and our ability to keep pace with payroll obligations.”