Ding Dong; All Change In First Manchester

Well there had been plenty of speculation, not only in the trade press but of course social media had also been doing its bit to spread the fake/real news speculation. Indeed it is an ironic if not perverse irony that these days like it or not Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (what ever that is ) etc are as likely to either know what might be happening out there as any other trusted periodical. And of course with good old Donald Where Is Me Trousers being the Commander in Chief who Twitters, it is probably not surprising that news travels so fast.

So, it came to pass that First group having been bombarded by rumours that they were in the process of selling off the three northern depots of Queens Road, Oldham, and Bolton, finally declared that the Queens road depot had indeed been sold to the Go Ahead group for 11.2 million scooping up 162 buses in the process. I suppose for someone like myself who had once worked at these depots it seemed a bit sad. The end of an era. But, as I have discovered as I get older nothing last forever, time does but, everything is transient.

And to be fair bus depots and ownership are no different, and in fairness First had their reasons. Speculation had it that it had been losing millions, mostly due to the ever fatal consequences of increased congestion, to be fair I would not be in the least bit surprised if that was the case. The centre of Manchester has been a building site for years as the tram network is embedded, all fine and dandy but a nightmare if you are attempting to operate a reliable, punctual, bus Company.

I look back with fond memories of my dealings with the First Manchester depots back in the heady years of EU accession and the wide spread deployment of mostly Polish bus drivers. Hired to bolster the dramatic driver shortages that were experienced back then but long since forgotten in todays modern world. My job as the project leader and persuader was to convince the senior management teams that employing these hard working and decent employees was a good idea. Once convinced then it was time to persuade the trade unions who to be fair were very supportive. This was partly influenced by the activities of the Polish trade union Solidarity, who played a key part in the fall of communism.

It took a lot of negotiating and overcoming genuine concerns, but in the end it all worked out and slowly but surely in groups of 12, the guys arrived. It did not take long for the workforce to realise that these were hard working, decent, and fun loving people who were happy to work as many hours as possible. Which quite honestly was a bonus for the incumbent workforce who had been working huge levels of overtime to keep the buses on the road.

I recall one incident that was brought to my attention, and in many ways it says a lot about the attitude of the Poles who came to work at First. Basically what happened was this, one of the Polish drivers who had carved himself a well justified reputation as being a very diligent and hard working employee. Suddenly, quite out of character, he stopped coming to work and for three days he was not seen, then one day he turned up, fresh faced and chomping at the bit. He was interviewed briefly by the depot controller and then went about his merry way and did his shifts. All was fine until a few weeks later when rumours started to speculate.

Hard to believe but what happened was the chap who had not attended work had picked up a virus and had been laid low. So, he contacted his twin brother who was also working in Manchester as an electrician, he taught him the bus routes and Company processes, gave his twin brother his uniform and off he went and did the job with no one the wiser. Now from an HR point of view everything was wrong, the guy was not employed, had no insurance, had no PCV licence etc. However, his logic was that he did not want to let the Company and the depot down so he fixed the problem. A classic Polish response that did not surprise me, as they don’t like to let people down. And when you consider all the sacrifices these good people made to actually get elected to work in the UK, you can understand it.

Hopefully those good folk who stayed in the UK and settled down will now transfer to Go Ahead. They are in my view a good Company to work for, how do I know? Because I worked for them, the people at the top are also decent and capable guys. Speculation is still rife that Rotalla will buy Bolton and Transdev will buy Bolton, time will tell but again, if Bob Dunn at Rotalla, and Alex Hornby at Transdev become the main men then that again would be good news. Two good people who know how to look after their staff. So farewell First Queens Road but welcome Go Ahead.

Written by Austin Birks

February 18, 2019

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