Local authority would bid for First Bus services if ‘financially viable’ to Aberdeen

First Aberdeen's headquarters on King Street
First Aberdeen's headquarters on King Street

Aberdeen City Council would only make a bid to take over bus services in the city if it is “financially viable” to do so, it has been claimed.

An urgent motion was unanimously agreed at a meeting of all councillors yesterday, calling for the council to contact those involved in the proposed sale of First Aberdeen, noting the interest in making a bid.

The motion, brought forward by co-leader of the council Jenny Laing, also asks officers to investigate the feasibility of the local authority making a bid for the company after its parent group First Group recently announced it intends to sell off its bus business.

But Ms Laing said proposed plans for the council to run services in the city again is at the “very early stages”, adding that any bid would have to be “financially viable”.

She said: “We see it as an opportunity to firstly note an interest but also instruct officers to come back around the feasibility of that.

“I want to reassure people in Aberdeen that we’ve always got finances uppermost in our minds.

“We would have to ensure that any bid we made was financially viable for the city and we would be prudent in that as we move forward.

“We’re at the early stages of purely noting an interest and also getting some facts and information back from officers around the feasibility of us running the bus service.”

Margaret Thatcher’s Transport Act of 1985 opened the door to privatisation, with Aberdeen’s First Bus buying out Grampian Regional Transport in 1989.

But politicians in Holyrood backed proposals earlier this month which would allow local councils new powers to operate their own bus services, under the new Transport Bill, which is yet to be ratified.

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Aberdeen Labour has been vocal in its call for more powers to be handed down to councils, with the party pledging in its manifesto to reintroduce a council-owned operation.

Ms Laing said she was “pleased” the council had agreed to move forward with the motion, arguing it formed an important strand in tackling inequalities in the city.

She said: “There’s a report just published last week by the Inequalities Commission which clearly shows the link between a lack of good, affordable, reliable public transport and people living in poverty.

“Not just to be able to access services but also to lift them out of poverty by being able to access employment and training.”

SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said his party has “long been committed” to returning corporation buses to Aberdeen.

He added: “It’s something my predecessor Callum McCaig suggested a number of years ago and the administration incidentally threw out.

“At this stage we know that First is looking to sell so it’s absolutely right we investigate whether we can buy and I really look forward to the detail coming back and seeing if it’s something that’s deliverable for the people of Aberdeen.”

It was revealed last month that Aberdeen-based transport operator First Group, which also operates the South Western Railway (SWR) and Great Western Railway lines, was considering selling its UK business.

In an email to Aberdeen councillors, David Phillips, operations director for First Aberdeen, said this means the firm will “likely be sold” to another business, adding that at this stage they “do not know who this will be and when it will happen.”

A First Group spokesman said: “Last month we announced that we will be pursuing strategic options to separate First Bus from First Group.

“This could be via a sale – either as a whole or in part – or by other means such as a demerger or partnership.”