Anglia & Thames Valley Bus Forum

Essex, Hertfordshire & Thurrock => Essex, Greater London & Hertfordshire - "Group" Bus Operators => First in Essex => Topic started by: Spoddendale on May 03, 2018, 08:27:19 PM

Title: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: Spoddendale on May 03, 2018, 08:27:19 PM
RouteOne magazine dated 30 April 2018 carries the following report:


First to exit Clacton and close depot with 60 jobs to go

First Essex is to close its Clacton depot and stop all five of its town services. Up to 60 of the 65 jobs are at risk. The routes operate 24 vehicles with a peak vehicle requirement (PVR) of 21.

Its seven days a week Clacton-Colchester and Clacton-Walton-on-the-Naze routes will continue.
First says its Clacton operation “has not been viable for several years.”

It faces competition from Go-Ahead owned Hedingham, which has a network of five Clacton town routes, and a route to Colchester.

Hedingham says it is planning to replace First’s routes.

First says that “despite working hard to turn the business around, there has been insufficient passenger demand” and the “challenging economy” has also been a factor.
First Essex MD Steve Wickers says: “The level of demand is not enough to warrant a stand-alone bus operation in Clacton.
“We see no alternative. Despite our best efforts, patronage has declined gradually over the last couple of years.
The threatened services are routes 2 (Clacton-Mistley), 3 (Harwich-Clacton), 4/4A (Clacton-Jaywick), 5/5A (Clacton-Flatford Drive) and 6 (Clacton-Point Clear via Bockings Elm and St Osyth).

Mr Wickers added: “Our proposals do not, in any way, reflect on the commitment of our colleagues in Clacton who have worked tirelessly to provide the best possible service to the local community.  I’d like to thank each, and every one, for their hard work and loyalty. We will be doing everything we can to assist everyone affected and will actively support any of our employees who may wish to transfer to other First Bus operations.”


The actual report includes maps of both the First and Hedingham Clacton services and may be seen via this link:

Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on May 15, 2018, 09:09:57 PM
Yeah, I'm loving the First business plan*: invest in Clacton (where passengers are declining) before you hand it over to the competition so they reap the benefit, whilst your retained services go to rack and ruin so the (increasing numbers of) passengers get fed up and desert in droves! They have a great (sic) future. No wonder Apollo walked away. Mind you, from the bunch that boast they spent 5 years, or longer, trying to make a pig fly, apparently; does anything come as a surprise?

Wasn't "On the Buses" filmed at their depots? They wouldn't need a script.

PS *or is it a suicide mission? The competition and everyone else wait patiently to find out (or rather perhaps not so patiently in the case of Hedingham and the passengers!).

It's not hard to see the Go-Ahead strategy. They have First in a vice, Hedingham from the east and Chambers (who've recently beefed up services) from the west. How hard can they turn the screw? Or is it threadbare? Do Go-Ahead locally  now have the fleet to bid successfully for the CC contracts held by First around Colchester, as in Clacton? I think an incremental strategy was how the successful Go-Ahead operations in the southern counties built up their business. They may have lost Anglian, but losing the battle doesn't necessarily mean losing the war. A truce with Arriva would be a realistic possibility. Are First in the game though? Wickers sounds more like Mark Antony's "I come to bury Caesar [FEx] not to [resurrect] him [it]". Comparing the initiatives at First's western operations (Bristol/Cornwall/Bath/Worcs), even the formerly troubled Dorset, let alone Norfolk/Suffolk, and First Essex do look as though they've lost the plot. Though it could be, if they ever had it to start with.
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on August 02, 2018, 11:50:54 AM
I really don't know how, or why, Wirst Essex survive. I expected Clacton to trigger a domino effect. Their passengers would be only too glad to see the back of them. Their staff can't be ars3d, either; though that is traditional for Essex! And the fleet is a junkyard, with nothing coming in; even the cascades are all going to Eastern Counties though hardly surprising if the lifer MD is a seat warmer who looks after his own, either.

Yes I know First can't afford the shutdown costs, and Essex is only one of their basket cases. Though First keep telling us they want to "realise value", and the only value in First Essex is in the depots as housing sites. The whole Group looks like it's going down the pan. But Essex must have got to the stage that things are irrecoverable where no-one with an iota of sense would want them. Is that the survival plan? A strange sort of business. Perhaps bring it on Uber, and we can get rid of the rotten Shire buses altogether? In the case of First Essex they only cause trouble whether you are trying to travel on them or travel alongside them.
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: cesar on August 02, 2018, 09:31:35 PM
So out of interest, what would be your strategy if you were appointed MD for First Essex?
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on August 03, 2018, 12:38:03 AM
The easy answer as I said is that I think that now it's irretrievable. The fleet is old and getting older, recruitment is getting harder and there is no investment. No one (neither their passengers or the drivers) gives them the benefit of the doubt any more so it's harder to change anything. Your guess is as good as mine as to how messy the collapse will be.

Looking at the most recent accounts Essex make a decent whack (mostly from passengers). The problem is that it's completely wiped out, it seems, by their operating costs, which must be ginormous! That's a hard nut to crack. Clacton and Braintree are a puddle in a flood.

What would I have done in the past? Tried to match resources and demands, and in First's case that means doing less because the resources aren't there. Instead First Essex tried the opposite . . . with an entirely predictable result. It's now too difficult for them, or anyone else, to sort the mess out. You can't have London style services without London's resources. It does put everyone else off though; operators and passengers. No help there, then. They've trimmed the fringes of the network, fairly constantly. but that isn't the the nub of the problem. It's a lovely idea to provide everyone with a service within 1 1/4 miles of home, but just make sure you have the resources first, or First! Especially when the bus we rely on for work or an appointment doesn't turn up, although there's probably another bus less than a few hundred yards away! Some people I've met are actually good at this chasing the bus lark; a very few! I've tried it myself. Of course every operator has the problem, but they don't all go and make it worse than it has to be.

As an example look at what is perhaps the biggest problem for all Home Counties operators - congestion. I could hardly conceive of a network designed better to maximise the impact of congestion. Understandable perhaps, if it meets passenger needs, but often it doesn't and seems to be a legacy of the 1950s: "we always have". Pad out the timetables, and routes, when you don't have the resources to start with, and . . . Of course the result is that depot management and their drivers are left with the impossible job, and confused passengers (to say the least).

It is not entirely First Essex' fault; a lack of decisive action is a First Group characteristic. And I suppose that when FB said (as they have consistently) that anything is up for disposal, you could say that your best protection as an OpCo is to be a basket case!

If Clacton's problem was in part its over dependence on Council subsidised work (which it lost), is the same true of Colchester, and even Chelmsford? Even now they're "half out" of Clacton, and adding to the existing problem that is Colchester. OK, it's a start . . . of what, exactly?

It does all though highlight just what a problem the Chairman has in, as he puts it, "realising value from our operations for our shareholders". OK First Essex have value in their freeholds, including I assume Basildon Bus Station in the mooted town centre redevelopment, but presumably a significant sum could be wiped out by closure costs (may be unless the staff leave faster than the services are withdrawn, which is possible!). The good news as the MD put it in the case of Clacton is that "there are plenty of other operators around", though none yet have the same scale in Essex; but my money would still be on a break up (voluntary or otherwise) rather than a single transfer.
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on August 03, 2018, 03:43:43 PM
 :( It really does look like First ask their managers to drive with one hand tied behind their back. They have operational "independence" but no idea what resources they will have. If so, surely the crash is inevitable; sooner or later.
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on September 09, 2018, 07:15:50 PM
So out of interest, what would be your strategy if you were appointed MD for First Essex?

OK. A fire sale of the profitable bits - the X30, 100 route, and possibly Hadleigh network, to Ensign.

Given the current apparent way drivers are deserting in droves and fleet famine due to age/maintenance backlog, and lack of any apparent remedial action - though what are First actually in a position to do; do they have any option? It might leave the remainder as another First Bus basket case, though they must be used to that by now; but the redeployment options would give them some breathing space for an orderly wind down. And the Chairman/acting CE could declare they've "realised value" - well every little helps, they say! Norfolk and Suffolk saved for the time being, so the local MD can sleep soundly.

Whilst First remain silent about any problems (as they did with Clacton where the consultation and closure announcements came together), perhaps interestingly Ensign do appear to have moved to reassure passengers with a recent unsolicited statement about their reliability and commitment to the local network. (Though from what I can gather from the few local passengers I speak to they wouldn't need much reassurance - just anyone but First!) Maybe we will find out something over the next few weeks. A few years ago the non-running buses might have been of interest to the TC (see TownLink) but they seem to have given up too.
Title: Re: First to close Clacton depot
Post by: essexdragon on September 10, 2018, 05:55:08 PM
The problem seems to me to be that First Essex are effectively a zombie company, i.e. one where the income does not meet the operating costs and has no reasonable prospect of doing so. Such companies are a big problem internationally, clogging up the economy, and preventing other more efficient companies from growing. It is why all the resources are going into the big brother, Eastern Counties and First Essex are constantly losing resources. There is nothing First can do about it to turn it round; they have tried for long enough, unsuccessfully. It is difficult to understand when Stagecoach (Cambs and Beds), Arriva (Herts and Bucks), even Eastern Counties, and other Go-Ahead subsidiaries around London manage to trade profitably in similar circumstances, but I suspect it is the result of local long-term mismanagement, magnified by the traditional First Bus complacency ("too big to fail"). The costs of closure are too high for that to be an option, so it simply pays the wages, but is to all intents and purposes comatose, as passengers find when they try to get any response. It is dragging First Bus down too, although it's probably not the only subsidiary (but one of the largest) to be doing so, and there aren't enough profitable ones.

I can't see any option, save to sell off the profitable bit to whoever they can, and then run down the rest, at a minimum level of service which hopefully encourages competitors to introduce services, and draw off the staff, reducing the eventual redundancy costs to an affordable level. I don't think a management buyout is an option, which it could be; simply because management have neither the incentive nor the ability. At least perhaps an advantage of being in the south-east is the depots could be be disposed of for housing, helping to recover the costs. It's a sad state of affairs. But surely their present paralysis cannot continue, simply with the mass exodus of fed up staff, and the ageing fleet going to rack and ruin.