Chapter 28 From London Country to Arriva
On the 1st January 1970 the Country Area of London Transport was transferred to a subsidiary of the National Bus Company and renamed London Country Bus Services and operated as such for almost seventeen years until September 1986 when it was split into four groups ready to be sold off during 1987/88. The political thinking behind the splitting up of the National Bus company was for small groups to compete to give passengers a better deal. Any manager worth his salt will not be content with a small company when he can either expand his empire, or sell his company and take the money and run.
So began over ten years of turmoil within the bus industry seeing both passengers and employees suffer. We at Hemel Hempstead along with our fellow garages within the old London Country Area were embroiled in this upheaval.
During the period 1986 to 1990 our managers tried in vain to keep LCBS North West, as we were now called, going as a profitable concern but in October 1990 were taken over by Luton & District Transport.
For many years Aylesbury depot had been part of United Counties. Hemel drivers who operated the 301 service from Watford to Aylesbury considered themselves to be a cut above the Aylesbury drivers who after all were part of the provincial buses whereas Hemel Hempstead had been part of London Transport. So it was it was a bitter pill to swallow to find our provincial colleagues rescuing us.
All the drivers and staff were invited to an open meeting held in a hotel where Dennis Upton the MD of Luton & District with his wife Shirley the secretary told us of their plans for the expanded company. I'm afraid to say that we gave them a very rough ride. We believed we could still operate under the old London Transport system which of course was impossible. Dennis told us we were on the point of collapse and we should be grateful to Luton & District for rescuing us. This was a severe blow to our pride. But over the next couple of years things settled down and the London Country North West Logo was removed from the garage and was replaced by Luton & District. Our operating system became that of the provincial bus services, for example vehicle numbers became car numbers, car and vehicle being the name for the bus or coach, mind you after ten years we are back to some of our old London Transport terminology .
After two years, in July 1994, Luton and District sold out to British Bus, previously known as Drawlane and the third largest bus operator in the UK. Many of the Aylesbury drivers made a handsome profit on this deal, being share holders in Luton and District. However in the cut throat market of the deregulated bus market British Bus soon foundered and we at Hemel Hempstead were informed that unless a buyer could be found very soon for British Bus we could all be out of work. We heard that a bid had been put in by Hong Kong Bus and also a rival bid by the Cowie Group. Cowie had been busy buying up a number of South London Bus companies. In the end Cowie won and our jobs saved.
During this upheaval we had a five year pay freeze which is something you do not need with one small child and another on the way and a mortgage whose interest rate had risen to 10 percent. At this time I believed what was required was a period of calm but our branch officials were more militant which is fine when you are in a position of strength. We had been taken over by Luton and District who were at that time owned by a management buy out.
I decided therefore to stand against Dave Carson, the Garage Representative at the next TGWU elections. The mood of the garage must have been similar to mine as I was voted in. Our branch secretary at that time was a young girl, Leslie Wingfield, who helped me settle in to my new role.
In the days of London Transport, wages had been determined by negotiations between the TGWU and London Transport. The rate of pay was the same for every Central LT garage with a lower rate for the Country Area buses and Greenline Coaches.
However with the break up of the Country Area pay rates varied between the four ex London Country Bus Services groups. Drivers at Hemel were on a different rate of pay from our colleagues at Stevenage or Reigate. Things got even worse following the take over by Luton & District and by the time I took over as union representative each garage had to negotiate its own pay scales with its garage manager.
Now our garage manager at that time was Neil Instrall. Neil was keen to keep wages down and also was quite aware that I was new rep with very little wage bargaining experience. Fortunately my good friend Dennis Boarder came to my rescue. Dennis had been in the bus industry nearly as long as I had and had a wealth of experience as a TGWU schedules representative and had attended many wage negotiations with the old London Country management.
Between us we formulated a wage package and put it to Neil Instrall. The first offer Neil put to me was a substantial pay increase for Greenline drivers. Neil knew full well my feeling that Coach driver should be on a higher rate as they had been under London Transport. This pay differential had been sold as part of a general increase in pay for all drivers.
As much as I would have loved to accept a pay rise for myself and my fellow coach drivers as a union representative for all the garage I would have been lynched had I taken that proposition to the members. So negotiations continued. We knew Neil did not have the final say as every time he asked us to leave his office he was on the phone to his manager. After some very noisy meetings during which Dennis came to my aid we managed to persuade the members to accept the managements final offer.
Finally in 1996 we were taken over by Cowie. ( For those interested in the history of the Cowie group and why it changed its name to Arriva check out
Things soon settled down and I found myself resolving garage disputes including disciplines, route timings and numerous things that go towards a smooth running garage. However one thing still remained outstanding and that was pay and conditions. With perseverance and a willing MD in Peter Harvey we finally achieved our goal of central negotiations. With so much disparity between individual garages it took a few years to get all the drivers in all the garages onto the same pay rates.
By now not only did we have mini buses in the garage but also some routes were operated as contract routes to the local council. To gain these contract routes Neil Instrall had tendered for them agreeing to pay the drivers a rate between that of the mini buses and the big bus pay. Things pay wise were beginning to get complicated. I remember back in the 70s our union representative Bob Stevens warning us not to let mini buses into the garage. Mini bus drivers had a lower rate of pay and if as soon became apparent there became more mini bus drivers than big bus drivers management would play of one group against the other, which of course it did.
Again it would take many years of negotiations to get all drivers onto the same rate of pay. We are still not quite there. When I started at Edgware I was paid the same rate as a driver who had been there forty years. At present a new driver will have to wait three years to reach the full rate of pay, yet he will have the same responsibilities as the driver who has been there for years.
and now coach drivers are paid no more than the bus driver.
Perhaps it was being a coach driver that the accusation of favouring the coach drivers over the bus drivers finally led to my position of Union Representative being challenged. At the next branch elections I was ousted as union rep to be replaced by Colin Bacon. Thankfully Colin has made a very good rep winning us some good pay awards.
I took over the position as Health & Safety Representative which led to gaining a position on a BA course at the London Metropolitan University sponsored by the TGWU.
Part of the course required me to study the history of the bus industry and as a young person I remembered thumbing lifts in cars during the 1958 bus strike. I wanted to find out the facts behind the 1958 bus strike. I have attached that piece of work as an appendix to this narrative. Part of the research would require going through all the minutes taken at the branch meetings, which I was sure I had seen in the old garage. I searched everywhere for them but to no avail. One day I was carrying out a health and safety check in the electrical switch room when I saw an old locked filing cabinet. I got one of the engineers to remove the lock with a pair of bolt cutters and there to my relief were all the old minutes going back to 1956. It was then that I remembered moving the cabinet myself many years ago when we moved from the old garage and putting it in the switch room for safety. One of the points that I made in that project was the dramatic effect the defeat of the Country area busmen had on future industrial action. There were no strikes or threatened industrial action over pay for many years even, as I have mentioned before, during the five year pay freeze. So it was with great pride in my fellow workers that in 2004 we finally balloted for strike action over a pay award. I was at the Luton head office when the results of the pay ballot came through. Management could hardly believe the results, the work force had overwhelmingly rejected the pay offer and were prepared to take industrial action. Within days the union reps were called back around the table and a new and much improved offer was put before them which following a ballot at all of the garages we accepted.