Pensioners lead protest at pounds 41m Stagecoach takeover

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Angry pensioners yesterday protested strongly outside the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in an attempt to stop the city's 1,600 bus drivers from allowing the rapidly expanding Stagecoach company to buy GM Buses South.

Holding placards reading, "Our need, their greed," the pensioners appealed to the share-owning drivers not to put personal profit first and claimed the takeover would lead to higher fares and reduced services.

Tom McFadden, a pensioner, said: "Stagecoach will get their feet under the door and they will slam it on us. Greed is what is driving them."

The protest, however, fell on deaf ears with the drivers voting overwhelmingly to accept the pounds 41m takeover that makes each worker almost pounds 10,000 better off. The meeting to sanction the deal, which will also result in six managers sharing a pounds 2m windfall for their 198,000 shares, lasted just 20 minutes.

Drivers also ignored sharp criticism from the Labour Party which accused them of selling GMBS on the cheap.

One driver, who voted in favour, said: "It's like a good win on the lottery. Driving buses is not that well-paid and most of these guys have never seen pounds 10,000 in their life."

The drivers each took out loans of pounds 1,000 for their pounds 1 shares when the publicly-owned GM Transport Authority sold GMBS in 1994 to a management- employee buyout team for pounds 25m. Stagecoach's offer, worth pounds 50m if pounds 10m GMBS debt is included, values those same shares at pounds 10 each.

Some drivers said it was not personal profit that mattered, but the business skills of Brian Souter, chairman of Stagecoach. "The man knows what he is doing. He's not as bad as people make out," a driver said.

Stagecoach, based in Perth, has guaranteed trade union recognition, pension arrangements and no compulsory redundancies at GMBS for at least three years. It is offering 577 new Stagecoach shares for every 200 GMBS shares held; a cash or loan note alternative was also available.

NatWest Venture Investment and Montagu Private Equity Investments, the two institutions that own 49 per cent of GMBS, have agreed to take cash.