WORKERS at Lothian Buses fear the firm could be plundered – or even sold off - if plans to place it under the control of an arms-length council company get the go-ahead.
Councillors will decide next week whether to give Transport for Edinburgh (TfE) the right to be directly involved in the day-to-day running of Lothian Buses.
At the moment, TfE simply holds Edinburgh Council’s shares in the bus company, and helps develop an overall transport strategy for the city. Lothian Buses has its own board, its own management, and reports directly to Edinburgh Council.
TfE also owns Edinburgh Trams, and the move to place Lothian Buses under its control has increased concerns that more profits from the bus company will be used to pay for the controversial £145 million tram extension down into Leith.
City bosses have already approved plans to put £20 million of Lothian Buses profits towards the project.
Union chiefs also fear the move to TfE could leave Lothian Buses open to sell-off to a private bus firm.
A report to be considered by councillors says: “TfE… has the potential to develop commercial opportunities to transform some council-run public transport operations and services.
“This may remove the need of ongoing council funding over time and it is proposed these opportunities should be explored.”
Unite regional officer Tony Trench said: “Lothian Buses is a jewel in the crown. It is one of the last remaining municipal bus companies in the UK. It is a profitable business that provides a good service for passengers in Edinburgh and beyond. We can’t afford to have it threatened.
“Our members are afraid that Lothian Buses would be bled dry here under TfE - either by privatisation, or because it’s being used as a golden goose to fill a hole in other budgets.
“This proposal opens a door, and on the other side of it could be sell-off to a private bus company. And passengers know what that means – a poorer service, higher fares and no guarantee that routes will survive if they don’t turn enough profit.
“When First Group recently pulled out of East Lothian with hardly any warning, tens of thousands of people faced the prospect of being left with no bus service at all. It was only because Lothian Buses is such a stable, profitable business, that it was able to step in.
“Councillors in Edinburgh should be proud of Lothian Buses, and shouldn’t be handing it over to an arms-length company. We demand that they reject this proposal, and we ask the other Lothian councils who have a minority shareholding to support us.”
Unite members from Lothian Buses will take a deputation to the City Chambers on Tuesday morning to make their views known to councillors.