A bus company which is set to close a major depot in County Durham has said it is "disappointed" as the threat of industrial action has taken a significant step further.

Go North East is facing growing calls to keep its Chester-le-Street depot open, where around 200 workers are employed, after announcing the decision earlier this year.

A formal ballot on industrial action has today opened after a staggering 95 percent of workers at the depot asked voted in favour over the proposals.

Read more: Hundreds of Go North East drivers could strike over depot’s shock closure

The ballot is set to run until July 28 and, if approved, could see drivers staging strike action, affecting dozens of services and routes across the region.

The Northern Echo: Picture: GO NORTH EASTPicture: GO NORTH EAST

Last night, the boss of Unite the Union desperately urged Go North East to reverse its decision to avoid strikes as it also emerged some admin roles would be made redundant. 

However, the company has defended the "difficult" decision, saying the closure is necessary to recover from "financial challenges" and that there are no driver or engineer based redundancies.

'This should serve as a warning'

Sharon Graham, general secretary at the union, told The Northern Echo: “The prevailing mood of workers at the Chester-le-Street depot is definitely for strike action and Unite will back them all the way.

Read more: The Go North East Chester-le-Street services that could be hit if drivers strike

"This should serve as a warning to the company to scrap these damaging and poorly thought-out plans, which will severely impact on its workers and the town.”

The depot on Picktree Lane is set to shut down in September, once drivers and around 80 buses are relocated to neighbouring depots, some as far as 14 miles away.

The company has said there will be no driver or engineer-based redundancies, although The Echo understands a number of office staff are set to be made redundant.

In recent weeks, the move has been severely criticised by workers, politicians, businesses and members of the public.

Concerns raised include the cost of commuting to a new destination, disruption to their personal life from relocation and the impact a relocation of buses will have on services in the county.  

Read more: Bishop Auckland bus drivers could be hit with 70-mile commute if depot shuts

The Northern Echo: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPicture: SARAH CALDECOTT

'It will worsen services'

On Thursday, Labour MP for Durham, Mary Foy revealed how she had been approached by a number of constituents over their concerns to shut the depot.

She said: "At a time when the provision of bus services in and around the City of Durham is shrinking and services are already unreliable - I have serious doubts that this closure will not worsen services for my constituents.

Read more: Read MP Kevan Jones' furious letter to Go North East boss over depot closure

"I know my Parliamentary colleague in North Durham, Kevan Jones MP, has already taken a firm stance on this possible closure as it is within his constituency, however, I'll be happy to support him in any way that I can to ensure the impact on employees at the site, as well as on services for our constituents are kept to a minimum.

"I sincerely hope that Go North East will take on board the outrage from residents and employees and reconsider this decision.”

A campaign to save the depot, named 'S.O.D Go North East,' has been set up in recent weeks by workers furious at the decision.

Meanwhile, almost 400 signed a petition within 48 hours of it being set up which called on the outgoing Managing Director, Martijn Gilbert to scrap the plans, this week.

Mark Sanderson, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer, said: “These plans are all about Go North East chasing short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability and service provision, which investment in a new depot would bring. 

“Closing the depot will hurt our members’ jobs and working conditions, as well as damaging community services and the local economy.

"Our members have the support of the town in opposing the closure. Go North East needs to drop these plans before this dispute escalates into strike action.”

'An extremely difficult decision but no driver jobs lost'

Responding, Go North East defended its "extremely difficult" decision maintaining that the firm needed to "recover" from its financial challenges.

They said: "We understand how attached colleagues are to the depot and to each other, however, we are a substantially smaller business now following the pandemic.

"We must therefore downsize the number of depots across the company, and reduce our overheads, to recover from our current loss-making position – this change is a major part of that recovery plan. 

"There are no job losses to our driver and engineering workshop colleagues as part of this closure.

"Bus Driver and Engineering colleagues will transfer to one of our neighbouring depots in Washington, Consett, Sunderland or Gateshead and can choose a depot of their own choice to suit individual circumstances.  

"Many of our Chester le Street colleagues have chosen to transfer to our Washington depot which is just 6 miles away from our depot at Chester le Street.   

"We’ve worked in partnership with Unite the Union to create a relocation package that we feel is fair and appropriate, compensating colleagues for the disruption of moving depots, and without any redundancies to drivers and engineering colleagues.   

"It is therefore disappointing to note Unite the Union’s desire to ballot for industrial action which will cause widespread disruption to local bus services for residents and businesses in Chester le Street and surrounding areas.  

"Particularly when jobs, pay and conditions are protected for those colleagues involved. 

"There are no changes to local bus services as a result of this depot closure. Services will continue to operate from our neighbouring depots."

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