Go-Ahead buys up London bus group for pounds 46.1m

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The Independent Online
Three hundred staff at London General, one of the capital's biggest bus companies, each had a pounds 2,600 windfall yesterday after the company was sold to the Go-Ahead bus group for pounds 46.1m.

The drivers and other staffbacked the management in its successful pounds 31.5m bid for the group in November 1994. They ended up with 15 per cent of the company, the same proportion as the four-man board led by managing director Keith Ludeman. The deal means that North-east based groups now control over a third of the capital's buses.

The acquisition of London General gives the Newcastle-based Go-Ahead, which already owns London Central, another 10 per cent of the capital's market, taking its share to around 18 per cent.

That is roughly the same as Cowie, the Sunderland-based motor dealer which owns the Leeside and South London bus companies.

Go-Ahead is raising pounds 19.5m in a placing and open offer to finance the deal and is calling on shareholders to approve a change in the articles to allow it to take on an enlarged borrowing facility of pounds 32.7m. London General has raised operating profits including exceptional items from pounds 2.22m in 1994 to pounds 8.43m in the year to March, on turnover which has grown from pounds 50.5m to just pounds 52.8m.

The company said it believed it could sustain margins in the short to medium term and to increase them in the longer term as consolidation of the market continues. Cost savings would come from merging the two businesses, although Martin Ballinger, Go-Ahead's managing director, suggested that further cost cutting from staff and other rationalisation was now limited after the efforts of the existing management at London General.

He added: "In the long term, we think its bloody brilliant getting nearly 20 per cent of Europe's biggest bus market and particularly south of the Thames, which is poorly served by the Underground."

London General operates one of the largest route networks in the capital, covering south-west and central London and Surrey.

Investment, page 24