THE Liberal Democrat opposition leader of Oldham council has welcomed reports that First Bus Group has put its Manchester operation up for sale.

Cllr Howard Sykes also represents the council on the Transport for Greater Manchester committee.

According to Passenger Transport, in 2012/13 the division had a £101 million turnover and made £3.5 million profit. However, by 2017/18 revenues had fallen to £86 million, and the Manchester operation made a loss of £5.8 million. National media reports suggest the business could be sold for as little as £20 million with vehicles sold to one or more competing operators, along with depots at Bolton, Bury and Oldham.

Cllr Sykes said: “The consistent feedback received from my constituents, who are reliant on First Bus services, is often poor.

"First Bus fares are high compared to some other transport operators, such as Manchester Community Transport and Metrolink.

"First Bus services are also often unreliable compared to these same operators, particularly after 6pm.

"The 59-bus ‘service’ which runs from Manchester to Rushcroft through my ward is a case in point. It is a service in name only as the bus often fails to show or is significantly behind schedule.”

Cllr Sykes added: “First Bus have not yet confirmed if they are putting the Manchester business up for sale, but, if they are, it is real pity that local authorities were denied the chance to establish new bus companies under the recent Bus Services Act as this would have provided an ideal opportunity to bring back an Oldham Corporation bus company.

“However, the Greater Manchester Mayor and Transport for Greater Manchester should work to ensure that the purchaser, or purchasers, who take on these services are committed to providing a first-class service for bus passengers, which is customer-focused, reliable, safe and affordable, and provides continuity of employment for First Manchester drivers and staff.”