04 May 2008

Rapsons in takeover talks with Stagecoach

One of the major operators in Northern Scotland is currently in negotiations with Stagecoach with a view to its possible takeover. Staff at Rapsons have been informed although no further comment has been made by either company at this stage.

The company covers a large area, with Inverness as its base, and at its extremes covers Thurso and the Orkney Islands in the far north and Fort William on the West Coast. The Rapson Group comprises Rapsons Coaches, Highland Country Buses, Orkney Coaches and Causeway Coaches, companies serving mainland Scotland and the Orkney Isles. Rapsons Coaches also provide executive coach hire as well as operating some National Express coach services.

The origins of Highland go back to 1952 when Highland Omnibuses was formed out of a section of the former Walter Alexander operations. Initially, upon deregulation, Highland continued to enjoy a monopoly across much of its operating area. Competition started around Fort William with the arrival of Gaelic Bus. However, it was the competition in Inverness, the largest town in the Highland Scottish network, that was to prove controversial. Highland Scottish was the sole operator there and provided all bus services in and around the town. However, in May 1988 a group of ex-Highland drivers formed Inverness Traction Ltd, operating a fleet of leased minbuses in parallel to Highland's Inverness network. Highland's response to the competition was to cut fare levels well below the competition and increasing traffic levels by 60%. Competition between the two operators was fierce and with much bad will with each accusing the other of unfair behaviour.

Both companies suffered acute financial losses during the competition period, which ended when Inverness Traction went into receivership in April 1989. The services operated by Inverness Traction, and the minibus leases, were immediately taken up by an Aberdeen-based coach operator, Alexanders (North East) Ltd. However, the intense competition continued and Alexanders also fell into receivership in Novermber 1989. After a brief interval, the assets and services of Inverness Traction were purchased by the Stagecoach Group. Highland, perhaps aware it could not sustain competition against a national operator with a reputation for swift and successful competition, scaled down the level of service against the new operator. Soon after, Stagecoach would purchase the Inverness and Tain operations of Highland Scottish and become the dominant operator of Inverness area services.

In August 1991 Highland Scottish was sold to a consortium made up of Rapson's Coaches, and recently privatised Scottish Citylink, for £800k. In March 1993 ownership of Highland Scottish passed wholly to Rapson's.

In 2006, Rapsons bus drivers threatened to strike before voting by a majority to accept an improved pay offer from their employers. About 200 workers with Rapsons group came close to taking industrial action. The Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) had called on Rapsons to bring pay in line with rival firm Stagecoach.