BURY'S transport chief has branded First Bus "not fit for purpose" and declared he has "zero confidence" in the operator.

Cllr Noel Bayley made the strongly critical remarks at the last full meeting of Bury Council before the local elections.

The council's representative on the Transport for Greater Manchester committee was responding to a question from Moorside Cllr Sandra Walmsley.

Cllr Walmsley said: "We are still getting complaints about the service that First is, or rather isn't, delivering to customers in Bury, around punctuality and services actually turning up.

"Rosso is leading the way and announced a red express service, the direct line from Ramsbottom to Manchester and new Tottington line.

"If Rosso can do it and turn performance around so quickly, could Cllr Bayley explain why, in his view, it's taking so long to turn around First's performance?"

Cllr Bayley said it was an issue of "two different models".

He said: "Rosso was taken over by Transdev which recently expanded its business, First Bus is shrinking its.

"Bus fares went up in January, it's a classic case of privatisation. I know the Conservatives want to think privatisation is a marvellous thing, but, in actuality, it isn't. It's not successful, it's a massive failure and has been for 33 years."

He continued: "First is actually contracting, it is charging people more and shrinking services. We will see fewer buses in Bury. It closed its depot in Bury on April 24, which was an unmitigated disaster.

"I have no confidence it doing anything to improve. In my view, it is not fit for purpose. I have said that publicly, I have said that in a meeting with First's senior management. They are not fit for purpose and I have zero confidence in them. We will have to wait and see what Transdev does."

A First Manchester spokesman said: “We took the decision to withdraw some of our services from April 8 to allow us to allocate more resources to our remaining routes.

"We have now introduced those changes and we will be updating Members on progress, in the near future.”

Cllr Bayley also attacked the Conservative privatisation programme of the 1980s.

He had to withdraw a comment in which he claimed the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was "in hell".

The comment was challenged as "inappropriate" by Conservative group leader James Daly, who said it was tantamount to "being glad someone is dead".

Cllr Bayley withdrew the comment on the insistence of the Mayor, but denied his remark meant what Cllr Daly had claimed.