Scotland's biggest privately owned bus business calls for furlough clarity as services slashed

The owners of the biggest privately owned bus business in Scotland have welcomed government efforts to retain jobs but added their voices to warnings over the future of the industry amid the coronavirus shutdown.

The bus business is owned by entrepreneurs Sandy, above, and James Easdale.

James Easdale, the chairman of McGill’s Buses, which has some 1,000 employees, also expressed disappointment that the company could not get hold of basic safety equipment.

In a letter to the firm’s staff, managing director Ralph Roberts noted that McGill’s had already lost 90 per cent of its custom. He said that despite the remaining drivers having direct contact with members of the public they were struggling to get supplies of masks, face shields and sanitiser because they are classed as non-priority.

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Founded in 1949, the bus operator has depots in Greenock, Inchinnan, Johnstone and Coatbridge, operating 400 buses across 100 routes which serve North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and the city of Glasgow.

Chairman Easdale, who along with his brother Sandy owns McGill’s, said: “Our staff are digging deep and keeping services running – there is real Churchill spirit on display. It’s disappointing that we can’t get hold of basic safety equipment though.”

Roberts added in his letter that despite the government announcing the furlough scheme there had been no confirmation of payment dates and the claims portal is not yet open. In his discussions with business leaders from all sectors around Scotland, this is proving to be one of the biggest worries they have.

Despite this he said: “The owners of the business (Sandy and James Easdale) are acutely aware of the hardship that it would cause if you were to wait weeks until the government paid out your 80 per cent furlough wage, so they have agreed to personally pay your weekly payments for as long as they are able to do so.”

Sandy Easdale added: “The Scottish Government is contributing part of the cost of keeping the buses running to enable key workers to get to their places of employment every day and night, yet there is confusion over this furlough scheme for our loyal staff.

“My brother and I are determined to financially support our staff and save every job possible, but we need to see more of the bulldog spirit from central government.”

Earlier this month, stock market-listed transport giant Stagecoach said it was furloughing more than half its bus drivers and engineers to slash costs as it welcomed news of a UK government bailout for the industry which will help keep services running after passenger numbers collapsed.

The Perth-based group, which employs more than 22,000 people across its bus operations, revealed that fares collected outside London are running at just 15 per cent of “normal” levels amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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