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London buses to be privatised next year

LONDON BUSES are to be privatised late next year before they are deregulated, the Government revealed yesterday, writes Christian Wolmar.

Under the plan, revealed in a written answer from Steven Norris, transport minister for London, the 11 subsidiaries of London Buses, which operates the capital's 600 routes, will be offered to the private sector from the end of next year, probably in batches.

Passengers are unlikely to notice any immediate change. The privatised companies will be under an obligation to continue to provide the same services as London Transport until deregulation, which is not expected for at least another three years. Most of the companies are likely to be bought by management teams from existing subsidiaries.

The announcement leaves two big questions unanswered - the fate of 53 garages and bases owned by LT, many in prime sites, and the form in which deregulation will take place. Some LT managers hope that property will be kept separate from the sale in order to deter asset strippers.

It is impossible to know how much the subsidiaries, which currently have a turnover of pounds 367m, including a subsidy of pounds 132m, are worth until the extent of deregulation is known. A prime asset is the routes and if there is free competition then the value of the subsidiaries may well be low.