Bus directors conduct £32m sale to Go-Ahead

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The Independent Online

Two directors of the Wilts and Dorset Bus Company were able to retire yesterday with the proceeds from the sale of their business to the transport group Go-Ahead for £32m.

Hugh Malone, the managing director, and Andrew Bryce, the operations director, decided to part company with the business they have run for 16 years since acquiring it during the Government's privatisation spree in the late Eighties.

Go-Ahead's deputy chief executive Chris Moyes said: "We see enormous opportunities in the Poole and Bournemouth conurbations to develop public transport."

Messrs Malone and Bryce bought Wilts and Dorset - which currently serves communities in Dorset, Wiltshire and South West Hampshire - in 1987 with a £700,000 cash injection from 3i, the private equity group. They, along with the engineering director Rodney Luxton who retired two years ago, were the only directors with equity stakes in the business.

Mr Moyes said Go-Ahead had invited the two top executives, both in their mid 50s, to stay on, adding: "But they chose, for fairly understandable reasons to retire ... You can take it they won't be on the breadline."

Go-Ahead said Wilts and Dorset would be managed as a separate entity within its deregulated south bus business. The acquisition is expected to enhance earnings in the current financial year and thereafter, the company added.

Mr Moyes said Go-Ahead would continue investing in Wilts and Dorset to improve the frequency of the bus service and modernise its fleet of 365 vehicles. Go-Ahead would also introduce bus lanes and up-to-the-minute travel information on local bus stops.

The company said Wilts and Dorset had a "good track record with revenue having grown steadily over several years". The company banked pre-tax profits of £4m in the year to 27 April 27 2002 and revenues of £25.8m. Its net assets were £18.7m.

Mr Moyes said Alex Carter - formerly of Stagecoach - would fill the vacant managing director's slot, while Andrew Wickham, Go-Ahead's current group development manager, would become Wilts and Dorset's new operations director. He said it would be "business as usual" for the company's 800 employees, promising: "We're not going to start swinging axes around."

Go-Ahead also operates rail and aviation services and has a car parking division. It recently courted controversy after its subsidies for South Central Trains, operated as a joint venture with French railway SNCF, were doubled by the Strategic Rail Authority from £53m to £103m a year.