DEVASTATING bus strikes that brought services across the North East to a standstill for weeks on end cost the region an estimated £10m.

Drivers, engineers and other staff at Go North East staged seven weeks of strike action from late September, including a continuous five-week walkout, before a deal was finally struck to resolve a bitter pay dispute at the start of December.

The prolonged saga affected millions of journeys and prompted widespread complaints about passengers being unable to get to education, work and medical appointments – especially in communities such as Washington and Houghton-le-Spring that rely heavily on Go North East routes.

Council leaders were told of the full impact of the crippling strikes at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) on Tuesday (December 19).

It is estimated that the dispute meant that around five million bus journeys were lost – half of which could not be completed by any other form of transport, meaning people were left stranded.

Approximately 750,000 of those lost journeys were among the elderly and disabled, while the total fall in economic activity as a result of the strikes is thought to have cost the North East a whopping £10m.

Transport North East managing director Tobyn Hughes said there had been “large and dramatic” consequences and that, while Go North East offered a week of free travel in a bid to entice passengers back to their services, the long-term effect on people’s confidence in public transport remains to be seen.

He told the JTC: “That is quite an impact. It is great that the buses are now back up and running. The first seven days were free of charge, which we welcomed, but we will see what the medium to long-term impact on bus users’ confidence will be.”

It was announced on December 1 that members of the Unite union had voted to accept an improved pay offer from Go North East, with a headline 11.2 per cent pay increase.

Bus services resumed the following day and the operator made travel free for seven days as a gesture of goodwill to customers who had been left to suffer during the strike.

Go North East’s business director, Ben Maxfield, said: “Unite’s strike has undoubtedly been damaging for local communities across the North East. Consequently, it will now take time for passenger numbers to grow back to pre-strike levels. Our free travel offer during the first week has gone some way to encouraging recovery, and we are hopeful that will continue in the coming weeks.”

Unite declined to comment when contacted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Wednesday (December 20).

When the pay deal was accepted on December 1, Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab said: “I’m delighted our members have secured this substantial pay increase. Thanks to their tireless efforts on picket lines and at protests they have secured the pay increase they deserve.”