CONTINUOUS strike action crippling all bus services at a major North East operator could have “life-destroying” consequences, it is feared.

Passengers have reacted with dismay after confirmation that an all-out, indefinite strike by Go North East workers will go ahead, starting Saturday, October 28.

In a ballot of more than 1,300 Unite union members, an overwhelming 81 per cent voted to reject the latest pay offer put forward by the company – on a 93 per cent turnout. 

It means that no Go North East services, aside from contracted school buses, will be running across the region until further notice.

There are now major worries about the impact that the shutdown will have on communities, particularly those without any other form of public transport.

IT tutor Hannah Allenby, who relies on a Go North East bus to travel from her home in Bowburn to teach in Houghton-le-Spring, likened the consequences to the Covid lockdown.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I think it is appalling, it is life-destroying.

"There are people out there in places like Houghton-le-Spring where there are no other public transport services. They won’t be able to leave the house for weeks – it is like a reconstruction of Covid.

“I am really, really angry. It is going to affect the economy, it will affect people’s physical and mental health. It is not acceptable at all.”

Go North East had tabled a 10.3 per cent pay rise offer, alongside a guaranteed above-inflation pay increase next year, to try and avert the all-out strike.

But Unite has called for its drivers to be paid the same rate as those at Go North West, where the average hourly wage is £15.53.

The company’s latest pay offer would have taken driver wages here to £14.15 per hour, which Unite called “insulting”.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said that “enough is enough” and called on Go North East to “resolve this dispute immediately as they have a significant responsibility to the people in this area who rely wholly on the bus”.

He added: “The impact will undoubtedly be devastating for our communities and the many people who need the bus to get to work, education and urgent appointments.   

“Local people will be forced to either stay home or pay for expensive taxis to get around in many cases – this is completely unacceptable.”

Passengers have already felt the impact of two week-long Go North East strikes this month, but the industrial action will ramp up from this weekend.

Tyne and Wear Metro operator Nexus said that it had tried, alongside Durham and Northumberland county councils, to attempt to contract other bus operators to step in and help the areas that will be worst-hit by the strikes.

However, customer services director Huw Lewis wrote in a note to stakeholders that this “has not been possible as there are not enough vehicles and drivers to be able to cover such a large commercial bus network in the region”.

Alistair Ford, of the North East Public Transport Users Group, added that he was “very concerned by the highly-disruptive impact these strikes are having”.

He said: “ We urge the bus company and the union to engage seriously to resolve the dispute as soon as possible. We also, however, understand the concerns of bus drivers and their demand for an improved pay offer. Bus driving is a skilled profession and wages should reflect that.

Lothian Buses in Edinburgh, owned by local councils, pays their drivers up to £18 an hour compared to the £14 being offered by Go North East. Our transport system and the safety of passengers relies on a well-paid and well-trained workforce if it is to be sustainable in the future.”