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Drivers could get Go-Ahead for pounds 17,000 lift

Scores of Brighton bus drivers yesterday found themselves in line for windfall payments of around pounds 17,000 each following a recommended pounds 5.76m takeover bid from the Go-Ahead Group to buy their company, Brighton Transport.

But the planned takeover by the fast-growing bus and rail group from the Gateshead-based Go-Ahead could still be halted by intervention of the competition authorities which said last night they were looking at the case.

Martin Ballinger, managing director of Go-Ahead, is confident the deal will go through without a hitch. He said yesterday: "It would be very peculiar if this was referred, considering that Stagecoach and FirstBus have dominant positions in cities like Southampton and Portsmouth."

The Office of Fair Trading confirmed it was considering whether the Brighton Transport takeover fell within its remit. But a spokesman added: "We look at hundreds of these type of cases."

It would not be Go-Ahead's first brush with the competition authorities. Two years ago it was forced to give undertakings to the Department of Trade after being accused by the Mergers and Monopolies Commission of "predatory pricing" in the North-east of England.

The Go-Ahead Group has been operating rival Brighton & Hove bus services to Brighton Transport for four years. It has seen a significant increase in passenger volumes as the local authority discourages city-centre car use.

Go-Ahead, which also operates bus services in Oxford and London, saw its underlying interim profits to 28 December rise by 82 per cent to pounds 12.2m. The company also operates the Thames Link and Thames Train services.

The proposed tie-up with Brighton Transport on the basis of 180p-per- Brighton-Transport share, has board approval. But the offer must still be approved by shareholders of Brighton Transport at an extraordinary general meeting.

Drivers and conductors are part of the 242 staff members who own Brighton Transport and its fleet of 84 buses and coaches.