Go North East Christmas bus strike impact 'unimaginable'

Martin Gannon
Councillor Martin Gannon described the loss of Go North East services as "catastrophic"

The effects of a bus strike in north-east England stretching into Christmas would be "unimaginable", the politician overseeing transport in the region has warned.

Staff at one of the area's biggest operators, Go North East (GNE), walked out on 28 October after rejecting a 10.3% pay rise offer.

Councillor Martin Gannon described the impact already seen as "catastrophic".

GNE said it had offered to make its drivers the highest paid in the area.

The Unite union says drivers are currently getting an average of £12.83 an hour while their counterparts working for the same company in the North West receive £15.53.

It is calling for a 13% increase for its 1,300-plus members and the indefinite walkout follows two one-week stoppages.

Green agenda 'damaged'

Mr Gannon, who chairs the North East Joint Transport Committee as well as leading Gateshead Council, said he was being contacted by "dozens and dozens" of affected people every day.

"This is 2023. This is the North East of England. We haven't got a bus service and it's been going on for [nearly] a month. It's outrageous.

"I have to be honest and say [the thought of it lasting until Christmas is] unimaginable.

"When this started, I couldn't contemplate a week without bus services."

Mr Gannon said he was worried efforts to encourage people to get people out of cars had been "damaged, probably beyond repair" as a consequence of the strike.

He told the BBC he had written to the Department for Transport (DfT), although he admitted he was unsure what powers it could exert.

'Skeleton network'

GNE has a fleet of almost 700 buses and coaches and has stated about 175,000 people typically board its services each day across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, Durham and parts of Teesside.

Further talks between the firm and Unite were scheduled for Thursday.

Ahead of the meeting, GNE business director Ben Maxfield said the 10.3% offer would take drivers' hourly wage to £14.15, with an above-inflation pay rise promised next year.

He added: "Our priority right now is to find a sustainable resolution with Unite that gets buses back on the road.

"In the meantime, we are working closely with local authorities to operate 80 buses as part of a skeleton network."

The DfT said "passengers deserve better than damaging strike action and we urge bus operators and unions to come together and ensure a swift conclusion so that vital services can resume".

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