Preston bus sold... again

A central connect Rotala bus service
A central connect Rotala bus service
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Preston Bus is set to be bought by Midlands company Rotala, the Evening Post can reveal today.

The sale will bring to an end a long-running saga over the future of the company since the Competition Commission ordered Stagecoach to sell it in November 2009.

The monopolies watchdog had ruled that a £6.4m takeover of Preston Bus by Stagecoach at the start of 2009 had led to a “substantial lessening of competition” in the city.

The takeover followed a bitter ‘bus war’ between the two firms in 2007.

Today none of the companies involved were prepared to comment publicly about the deal. It today remains unclear what any deal would mean for the workforce.

But one well-placed source said: “Preston Bus is officially now being sold to a company called Rotala. The Stagecoach signs on the buses are being removed from (this week).

“The sign at Deepdale Road (depot) has gone already.”

The proposed sale means that a bid to buy the firm by employees of Preston Bus has not been successful.

Employees had launched a bid to snatch the firm back, setting up a vehicle called Preston Transport Ltd. Preston Council backed them and granted £25,000 to help employees prepare a bid.

John Bannister, who was brought in to run Preston Transport Ltd, was not available for comment.

But another source added: “There’s disappointment because (the employees) had plans to run the Orbital service the way it goes now, even if the funding was cut, and replace service 11.

“We believe this company has been offered the chance to buy Preston Bus.

“Until they come in it is not clear what’s going to happen to wages and conditions.”

John Asquith, operations director at Preston Bus, refused to confirm Rotala’s involvement, but said: “Any announcement of who the successful bidder is would have to be made to the stock exchange.

“As it stands at the moment, no sale has gone through.

“It is expected that a conclusion is imminent.”

A spokesman for Rotala said the company was not in a position to comment.

A Stagecoach spokesman said: “If there are any developments to report we will issue a formal announcement.”

The sale will mean the return of two competing bus companies in Preston.

Frank De Molfetta, a county councillor for Preston, who worked for Preston Bus for 39 years, said: “To me it has been a sad affair for the staff.

“It is heartbreaking when you see this happening because it will never be the same again.”

It is not yet clear whether Preston Bus vehicles would bear the Rotala or Preston Bus livery.