THE Scottish Government is “increasingly concerned” over the coach wars which broke out after Lothian Buses launched its own excursions business.
Robin Worsnop, the boss of Edinburgh-based Rabbie’s Tours, wrote to Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop, claiming the creation of Lothian Motorcoaches was unfair competition and warning it could cost jobs in other businesses.
A letter of reply on behalf of Ms Hyslop said: “Ministers are becoming increasingly concerned about the issues set out in your correspondence given the impact on existing tourism businesses in Edinburgh.”
It said it would be “very difficult” for the government to intervene directly but it was “extremely important to find a solution if at all possible”.
The letter said Ms Hyslop raised the issue with city council leader Adam McVey when she met him in the autumn and was still awaiting his response to a note setting out concerns expressed to the government by a number of coach operators.
It added: “She is about to write again to Cllr McVey to remind him that the previously raised concerns still need to be addressed ... She will also suggest that he convene a meeting of all interested parties to broker a mutually acceptable situation.”
Mr Worsnop welcomed the fact the government was taking an interest, but said finding a mutual agreement might be impossible. He said: “The private operators would like to see Lothian Motorcoaches disbanded. I accept that’s a very difficult decision to make.”
But he said there were issues of principle involved: “Family-owned businesses rooted in the community are being impacted by a council-owned business coming in and distorting the marketplace, using its municipal muscle to potentially drive out competition.
“Rabbie’s board has already decided to refocus investment to other cities we operate in because we see this as unfair competition. Other companies fear they could be out of business.”
He said Lothian Motorcoaches was also undercutting prices across the market. “If you have big pockets that’s a strategy you can pursue to put competition out and reap the benefits later.”
Mr Worsnop said he had met city transport convener Lesley Macinnes and later vice-convener Karen Doran and concerns about “favours” being given to Lothian Motorcoaches, like signage at a bus stop, were addressed.
“The council say they are not allowed to interfere in the operation of Lothian Buses in any way. I find it a little odd – they are the shareholders and shareholders are normally able to have some influence.”
Cllr Doran said: “We have met with operators twice ... They raised a number of concerns and the council have assured them that where appropriate we will take forward actions to address these.”
Lothian Buses declined to comment, but it has previously said a healthy marketplace was essential for consumer choice.