THE North-East’s largest council has snubbed transport’s major names in favour of smaller, local firms in awarding bus contracts worth more than £3m.

Durham County Council has completed a retendering process covering £3.3m-worth of subsidised bus services in the south, centre and east of the county, agreeing what an official report calls a significant swing away from Arriva and Go North-East.

The contracts, awarded to the likes of Scarlet Band, Hodgsons and Weardale Motor Services, cover subsidised services, about a fifth of the county’s total, which would not otherwise operate because they are not money-making routes.

However, many are lifelines to villages. With the council cutting its bus subsidies budget by £1.2m and fuel costs rising, there had been fears services would be cut.

However, the overall cost is similar to previously, a report prepared for a council cabinet meeting stated.

Councillor Neil Foster, the council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “There has been considerable competition for the new contracts and a number of services will now change operator.

“However, despite a wide variation in tender prices, we have been able to ensure the overall cost is in line with last year.”

Tom Dodds, stakeholder manager at Go North-East, said the firm was pleased it would be operating most of the Monday to Friday daytime services around Peterlee on a commercial basis from October 28, saving the council about £200,000-a-year.

It also won a contract for an evening service between Easington Village, Peterlee and Sedgefield.

Nick Knox, area managing director for Arriva North- East, said: “We have not been successful in some of the tenders we submitted.

“However, as part of the revised arrangements, we will be introducing some new routes, including a service which will provide direct links from Trimdon Village, Trimdon Grange, Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hills.

“At the same time, we will be improving frequency on a number of commercial routes, including a service between West Auckland and Durham, service 43 between Esh Winning and Durham, services between Peterlee, Durham and Hartlepool, and between Coxhoe, Bowburn and Durham.”

The new arrangements will come into force on October 28.

More contracts, covering the north and west of the county, are due to expire next year.

The issue is due to be debated by the council’s cabinet next Wednesday.