THERE has been a potential breakthrough in the massive Go North East bus strike that has hit tens of thousands of people across the region.

Workers at the public transport operator are currently in the fifth consecutive week of a continuous walkout that has crippled bus services and caused travel chaos.

But union chiefs have confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it will now ballot its members on whether to accept an improved pay deal, reportedly an 11.2 per cent rise, that was struck during negotiations on Monday.

A 48-hour ballot of the Unite union’s 1,300-plus members at Go North East is expected to be held this week and, if the offer is accepted, could bring an end to the strike.

Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab said: “Unite can confirm that we have received a new offer from Go North East following talks. This offer now will be put to our members for a ballot.”

News of the headway made in Monday’s latest round of talks between the two parties will spark hope among passengers that this bitter industrial dispute will soon be at an end.

Until the outcome of the ballot is confirmed, the strike will continue.

Roughly 175,000 journeys would usually be made on Go North East buses every day, but the bulk of the operator’s services have been brought to a standstill by the strike.

It has led to major concerns about people being left isolated and unable to get to work or medical appointments, particularly in areas such as Washington and Houghton-le-Spring that are heavily reliant on Go North East routes.

Until now, the strike had shown little sign of being brought to a resolution. The last round of negotiations, held a week ago, had ended without an agreement despite union officials believing one had been “close” – but a war of words between the two sides continued.

Last Friday, Unite opened a ballot asking members to give a mandate to continue their indefinite strike beyond Christmas and well into the new year.

And in the hours before Monday’s breakthrough in talks, the union had been issuing communications about upping its campaign “across the UK and internationally” with “significant resources and manpower”.

In a previous ballot, Unite members overwhelmingly rejected a 10.3 per cent pay rise offer from the company. Go North East had insisted that was a “fair deal” that would have made its drivers the best-paid in the region.

The union had been calling for a pay 13 per cent increase, but has also complained that bus drivers at Go North West currently earn an average hourly wage that is more than £5,000-a-year higher than their North East counterparts.