Borders bus company loses out through EU directive

A JEDBURGH bus company is set to shed at least four of its drivers after losing out in a bidding war to a rival based outside the region, writes Andrew Keddie.

The contract to run Service 20 from Hawick to Kelso, via Denholm and Jedburgh, has been awarded by Scottish Borders Council to McEwan’s of Dumfries which will take over the route on June 1.

For the past five years the hourly service has been run by Munro’s of Jedburgh which employs 65 staff, including around 50 drivers, at its Bongate depot.

Munro’s director Ewan Farish revealed his company had come second in a tendering process which also involved the region’s largest public transport provider First.

“It is unfortunate we have lost a service which we have delivered to everyone’s satisfaction for the past five years and the bottom line is there will be local job losses,” said Mr Farish.

He explained that firms competing for such contracts were essentially telling the council how much subsidy they required, taking into account a necessary profit margin for each company. Any excess fare income on top of the accepted price is then clawed back by the council.

Mr Farish said four full-time drivers were currently engaged on Service 20.

He told us: “Four drivers will have to go and we are assessing the impact on our business – on our other staff who maintain and clean our fleet. I hope these job cuts can be achieved by natural wastage, but there are no guarantees.”

Mr Farish believes it would be possible for SBC to alter its criteria for awarding contracts to favour Borders-based firms.

“For example, we have water and electricity in our depot and the necessary staff to ensure our buses are properly maintained and kept clean, but such facilities hardly figure in how the bids are assessed,” he said.

But Matthew Mace, SBC’s passenger transport manager, told us: “Due to the value of the Service 20 contract being over the mandatory limit of 150,000 euros, the council had to follow standard EU procurement protocol.

“This requires the council to advertise the tender so that any operator, whether local or not, can bid and to set out the criteria on which the contract will be assessed.

“A tried and tested formula of 70 per cent price and five per cent for each of capability, experience, quality, service delivery, proposed working procedure and vehicle specification was used and applied to the four bids received.”

Mr Mace said there was no mechanism in the process for awarding contracts to local operators, although the very nature of delivering transport usually meant local operators would win local contracts.