"It breaks my heart" - Halifax bus company TJ Walsh's boss on decision to close

The boss of bus company TJ Walsh says it breaks his heart to have to close the business.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 4:36 pm
Neil Walsh

The Halifax firm started in 1983 and began running bus services in 1994, but will stop operating tomorrow (Wednesday).

Managing director Neil Walsh said the coronavirus outbreak had made it impossible for the company to continue.

"The over-bussing and discounting of fares on routes we operate by First group and the cutbacks from government for bus services - we only get 79p per pensioner carried for any distance - has for the last few years has meant that the company has only just been trading and keeping employees in work, but has been unable to build up cash reserves to help in times of crisis," he said.

"Unfortunately one microscopic virus has now moved the company into a situation that is currently and will be in the future make it impossible to continue running bus services and our contract services.

"We were the first to introduce strict measures to ensure the spread of the virus didn’t affect the workplace but the situation now is that they will not be enough and I cannot ask you to continue putting yourselves in danger.

"We have an ageing workforce, many with underlying health issues that will threaten your lives should and if we were to continue it would probably be when not if you catch Covid-19.

"There is an irony that we had just applied for and been told we were successful in a bid to run three additional tendered services for Metro subject to the WCA’s approval and that would have helped to increase our cash reserves.

"Obviously these are not being awarded now in this time of crisis.

"I have lost many nights sleep trying to decide the best course of action for our very uncertain future.

"This virus is not going away until we find a vaccine, we may slow the spread but it will be a threat for a long time, possibly a year, to anyone who cannot isolate or when interacting with other people conduct social distancing.

"The virus lives on surfaces and it would be impossible for us to maintain a cleaning regime just in the workplace or buses let alone keep a two metre distance from one another or the public.

"Some of our staff have underlying health issues that mean they need to isolate for at least 12 weeks and it could be many weeks more.

"They are key employees needed to keep the company functioning. Their work cannot be done at home."

Mr Walsh said he considered whether it would be possible to survive with a temporary closure for up to three months or more, and apply for the government's offers of help including paying employees 80 per cent of their current wage.

"This at first seemed like a possibility but with little or no cash reserves still means that by the time it is implemented we will have had to pay weeks of wages until it is reclaimed," he said.

"Our passenger numbers have fallen off a cliff edge and the government, understandably, is telling people to avoid public transport if at all possible.

"The desperately needed cash we rely on has almost disappeared. We still have many overheads to pay, despite the help offered, some of which are just loans to be repaid, not grants, including a substantial insurance bill.

"Probably the most damaging part of this option is that we will lose our tendered and contract services and their revenue income and we will run out of money in a short time leaving wages unpaid, even before the grant may be available.

"This effectively means there weren’t really any choice or options available.

"It breaks my heart but I have yesterday sent a form that will start the process of putting the company into administration for insolvency."

Mr Walsh says he intends to approach the supermarket chains to persuade them to employ his staff as home delivery drivers, and will provide references for anyone who requires one.

"Some of them will retire and retreat to the safety of their homes, hopefully the redundancy payments will help them through that," he said.

"I will, as always, be available to help.

"This is for me personally a very sad day, a lot of us have been on a journey working together against the might of Firstgroup.

"This has been a difficult industry to be in, and it has been very challenging to continue at times, but one of the reasons I continued was the fact my staff all came to work and I believe, helped us provide a bus service that many, many people stop me in the street to tell me how I should be proud of our company.

"I would like to thank them all for the time they have worked for the company, some of them for many years, for the efforts they have made and the hard work and dedication they have given.

"I was, and am, proud of what we achieved and sorry it has to end like this, but we won’t be on our own.

"I wish them all the luck for the future, and once again thank you."