Eastbourne Buses was sold for £4million

DETAILS of the multi-million pound sale of Eastbourne Buses have been emerging this week.

A deal was clinched last Thursday to sell the Birch Road firm to Stagecoach, and although Eastbourne Borough Council, which owns 80 per cent of the company, and the new owners are remaining tight-lipped, the Herald understands the price tag on the company was just over 4 million.

Staff have been assured there will be no compulsory redundancies among driving and engineering staff in the next two years and there will be no pay cuts.

In addition 12 new buses will be arriving in January to join the fleet but in a move that will sadden residents and transport enthusiasts, Stagecoach is expected to axe the corporate cream and blue colours of Eastbourne Buses.

No decisions have yet been made on either improvements or cuts to services and routes.

Both the council and Stagecoach say the sale is subject to contract and needs to be approved by the Department of Transport before any further announcements are made.

The sale of Eastbourne Buses had been imminent for some weeks after it was revealed the company was in dire financial straits and the council as the major shareholder and its partner Keolis wanted to sell up.

The company had run up significant losses in recent years, but remained solvent because its assets - primarily the Birch Road depot and workshops - covered its liabilities.

In recent weeks negotiators sought to overcome obstacles including the cost of protecting the pensions of Eastbourne Buses staff, which is likely to run to millions of pounds.

A spokesman for Stagecoach said on Monday, "We are pleased to confirm that Stagecoach has been named as preferred bidder for Eastbourne Buses Limited following a competitive bid process.

"A final contract is subject to further negotiations, the completion of legal matters and approval by the Department for Transport and we look forward to meeting with employees in due course."

A spokesperson at Eastbourne Borough Council said, "The transfer of Eastbourne Buses to a significant transport operator has been the council's intention over the past few months and the decision follows a full competitive process to ensure best value for council tax payers."

Stagecoach is one of the UK's biggest bus operators, operating more than 7,000 buses in more than 100 towns and cities.

They fought off stiff competition from Go-Ahead which operates bus services in Brighton and Hove and was also in the running as a buyer.

Stagecoach was not the favoured choice among staff at Eastbourne Buses and last month their union, Unite, wrote to councillors urging them to accept a bid from Go-Ahead.

Unite branch chairman Mick Hymans told the Herald this week, "A lot of people are apprehensive and sad that Eastbourne Buses is finished. They are worried about the future but hopefully their fears will be allayed."

Eastbourne Conservatives leader David Elkin said the sale to Stagecoach was "very disappointing" to most residents.

"Faced with the choice of Stagecoach or Brighton and Hove's standard of buses and proven track record for excellent service one would have thought the decision was obvious," said Councillor Elkin.

"This choice can only further raise concerns over future bus services in Eastbourne."

Eastbourne's MP Nigel Waterson who has been questioning the secrecy behind the deal, said he hoped full details of the sale would soon be out in the open.

"The only thing we know for sure is who they have sold the company to," said Mr Waterson.

"We need to know whether this is a good deal for council tax payers, bus customers and people who work for Eastbourne Buses."

But as the deal was clinched, deputy council leader Troy Tester said the deal with Stagecoach was the best one on the table.

"Our objective has been to secure the future sustainability of bus services in Eastbourne and get the best possible value for local council tax payers," he said.

"This deal is our best chance of achieving both of these aims and we look forward to completing the transfer as quickly as possible."