Hope for end to bus dispute as Aberdeen city centre businesses affected by strikes

ACAS is now involved in the Unite the Union and First Aberdeen contract disputes, with a resolution hoped to be reached
ACAS is now involved in the Unite the Union and First Aberdeen contract disputes, with a resolution hoped to be reached

Businesses across the city centre have blamed bus strikes for reducing footfall and causing employees difficulty in getting to work.

Business organisation Aberdeen Inspired has been contacted by several firms which claim they have been affected by First Aberdeen strike action throughout March.

The complaints come as First Aberdeen and Unite the Union resume talks to end the dispute – with mediation service ACAS involved for the first time.

Companies say they have seen a drop of up to 50% in footfall during periods of industrial action, which has had a knock-on effect on traders, with employees also struggling to get to work.

Striking bus drivers said they “regret” any inconvenience to the public, adding public support had been “remarkable” and placing the blame on the bus firm.

Geoff Cooper, city centre manager for Aberdeen Inspired, said: “We have been approached by a number of our city centre levy payers who have voiced their concern on the damaging impact the bus strikes have had on their business.

“They are currently experiencing reduced footfall and staff availability issues in an already difficult trading environment.

“Our footfall counters have shown that the decline in footfall is double what has been experienced nationally.

“We act as the voice of business in the city centre and it’s important we highlight these issues if the industrial action is expected to continue.”

Bus drivers at First Aberdeen went back to work on Sunday following a week of industrial action.

Unite the Union and First Aberdeen are embroiled in talks to hammer out a new deal for drivers’ pay and conditions, but so far no settlement has been agreed.

Union bosses are hopeful that today’s meeting with ACAS will avert an indefinite strike period which has been scheduled to begin on Friday.

Graeme McKenzie, director of Mostyn McKenzie footwear retailer on Union Street, said: “The strikes have had a devastating effect on our business as we experienced up to a 50% drop in footfall on strike days.

“Many of our customers rely on public transport and are simply not visiting the city centre because of the uncertainty of getting home.

“The challenges of retail industry on the high street have been well documented and this is another issue to discourage people from visiting Aberdeen.

“Should the strike continue indefinitely, we shall have no option but to start reducing staff hours.

“It is imperative that some compromise is made to resolve the dispute.”

Stuart McPhee, general manager of Siberia Vodka Bar and Aberdeen City Centre Hotel, added: “I take neither side in the industrial action, all I know is employees have struggled to get to and from work and I have had to collect them myself when the revised bus timetable failed.

“The strike has had an effect on footfall in the bar, most notably Monday and Tuesday last week with takings down.

“Regular bookings were also cancelled for later in the week which was another loss to us which, in the difficult trading conditions we all face, is really infuriating.

“I would like to see as swift as possible a return to some semblance of normality.”

First Aberdeen estimates the losses to the firm are between £100,000 and £200,000 in the 10 days of industrial action so far.

Meanwhile, North East Sensory Services (NESS), an independent charity that supports blind and deaf people in the region, said reduced bus services have also had an impact on its service users.

Chief executive of the charity Graham Findlay said: “One of our groups was cancelled last week because people were saying they couldn’t get in, and blind and partially sighted people can’t drive.

“We have had a couple of volunteers who have really struggled to get in and a couple of members of staff have had to get lifts to get in.”

Graham Gavin, convener of Unite at First Bus Aberdeen, said: “The bus drivers at First Aberdeen regret any inconvenience to the public and businesses in Aberdeen caused by the strike. The public support for the strike has been remarkable.

“We are going to official arbitration today which we suggested weeks ago.

“It’s not the union that is being unreasonable. It’s us that are doing the giving and First that’s doing the taking.”

David Phillips, operations director for First Aberdeen: “First Aberdeen acknowledges that customers will have experienced some inconvenience and disruption during strike days, for which we would like to apologise. We have tried to focus our efforts and resources into covering peak times and journeys through our revised timetable to make sure people can get a bus during the busiest times of the day.

“Other factors such as the closure of Broad Street will also no doubt have had an impact as well, but we accept that the industrial action has had an impact on us all and that is why we have been active in trying to end the dispute.”