CRUNCH talks between unions and Arriva bosses to head off further strike action by bus drivers will continue on Friday.

Management and representatives from Unite the Union got round the table on Thursday to thrash out a deal ahead of a planned ten-day strike from midnight on January 27.

But there was still an impasse following five hours of talks and both sides confirmed they would continue discussions on Friday.

The last seven-day strike earlier this month had a devastating impact on business, with traders blaming it for a loss in takings, and said the high street had been unusually quiet even with the expected post-Christmas lull.

Chris McEwan, deputy leader of Darlington Borough Council, urged both sides to try to reach a deal to avoid any more disruption.

But he said: "I have tremendous sympathy with the bus drivers. It is a hard gig they do, and they are not getting massive pay cheques. However, I am really keen that somehow this whole situation is resolved.

"This is having an enormous affect on the economy as a whole, not just on the town centre.

"Secondly, it is also having an adverse affect on people's lives. We are a caring town and one of the challenges we face is loneliness and isolation among some of the population and public transport for some people is a route for them to get out and socialise.

"Not having a full bus service was a challenge for many people, not just for getting to work but also getting to schools and colleges.

"The strike action may have emphasised to local people the importance of having a good public transport network – not everyone has a car."

During the last strike Arriva was forced to run services at minimum levels as 650 drivers across the region walked out in the dispute over pay and conditions.

The strike meant that on some days no buses were running in Darlington and Stockton and limited services were running in the Durham, Teesside, east Cleveland and Whitby areas. Arriva was not charging for journeys throughout the strike.

Immediately following last week's strike Unite the Union announced the further action, and the planned talks.

Regional officer Bob Bolam had pledged to go into the talks with a "positive and constructive frame of mind" and added that he understood the impact further strike action would have, saying it had not been taken lightly.

Neither side wanted to make a statement last night other than to say talks were continuing.

Bus services in Darlington are no longer subsided by Darlington Borough Council and are operated on a purely commercial basis by Arriva, so there is no minimum service the company is contractually obligated to provide.