FORTY jobs may be lost in the aftermath of Stagecoach's controversial takeover of Cavendish Buses.
Just 10 days after buying Cavendish, Stagecoach has announced that it is closing the operation.
The news has come as a bitter blow to drivers and other staff at the Polegate depot of the bus firm in Dittons Road, which will close when the company folds in March.
All 65 jobs at Cavendish Buses will go, but 23 driver posts will be available at Eastbourne Buses, which was also taken over by Stagecoach in a multi-million pound buyout in December.
Phil Medlicott, area managing director of Stagecoach, wrote to all employees on Tuesday outlining the need for major organisational changes.
Under the proposals Cavendish Buses will cease to operate from March, revised timetables offering what he called "more comprehensive services" will be brought in, and the depot on Chaucer Industrial Estate will close.
Mr Medlicott added, "All posts at Cavendish Buses will be redundant and all employees are at risk of redundancy.
"There will be some vacancies at Eastbourne Buses at Birch Road available as alternative employment and we anticipate there will be approximately 23 driver posts available at Eastbourne Buses."
Drivers were yesterday (Thursday) nominating three colleagues to represent them in consultation about the proposals.
At the depot yesterday morning none of the drivers were prepared to talk openly about their uncertain future for fear of being penalised by the new owners and not offered alternative employment.
But privately, many are angry and upset and say they were kept in the dark about the buyout despite rumours in the run up to Christmas.
One driver told the Herald, "All the rumours were denied and then Stagecoach took over. There was no consultation with us, nothing at
all. We have been treated appallingly. No-one wants to speak out and put their neck on the block because then we won't be looked on favourably by Stagecoach when it comes to getting another job.
"Everyone here is worried. There are people with mortgages and families and the future is so uncertain."
Concerns have also been raised that with Eastbourne Buses and Cavendish now within its portfolio, Stagecoach is the monopoly bus provider of bus services in the area.
Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson said he was appalled and Tory leader on Eastbourne Borough Council David Elkin added, "My concern now is the impact that a monopoly bus operator may have in the town. Will we still get the new buses as promised? Will we get the quality bus service we were promised?"
A spokesperson at Stagecoach said, "While it is true Stagecoach will be the major provider of local bus services in Eastbourne, just as Eastbourne Borough Transport was in past years, the real competition is between public transport and the car.
"There will inevitably be some changes to both businesses under our ownership. However, we will be looking to build on the strengths of the Eastbourne Buses and Cavendish operations and look forward to working with staff and local stakeholders to attract more people to the benefits of greener, smarter bus travel."
Adding to the controversy is the revelation that Stagecoach is one of four preferred bidders to run local rail services.
Richard Madge from Bexhill Rail Action group said this week, "The winner will be announced this summer and take over operations in September. Were Stagecoach to win, it would have an absolute monopoly over all public transport in the area. Surely this cannot be in the interests of passengers."
The Cavendish bus operation came to Eastbourne as a competitor to Eastbourne Buses two years ago. It competed with the main company on some routes, but also filled in routes from which Eastbourne Buses had withdrawn.
Despite being the minority operator, and with older vehicles, Cavendish has been popular with many bus users, not least because it undercut Eastbourne Buses' fares.