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Highland bus firm D&E Coaches faces £1.5 million loss with cancellation of Invergordon cruise season

By Calum MacLeod

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Donald Matheson of D&E Coaches.
Donald Matheson of D&E Coaches.

A HIGHLAND bus firm is determined to fight back despite huge setbacks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A record 106 cruise ships carrying 250,000 passengers from around the world had been expected to call at Invergordon this summer.

It would also have meant a record year for D&E Coaches, picking up passengers for day trips to the city and across the Highlands.

Managing director Donald Mathieson said the impact of coronavirus restrictions had been “severe” for the business.

In addition to the loss of cruise ship contracts – which account for 90 per cent of its private hire work over the summer – D&E has also been affected by other cancellations including Belladrum music festival, which would have started today.

Mr Mathieson said: “These have been extremely challenging times as demand for coach hire dropped off sharply, putting a stop to a very busy forward order book.

“We are, however, beginning to receive some new bookings, which is encouraging.”

He said the company – which employs 85 people – is determined to carry on.

“Despite the loss of trade we’re a family business, so we have set our sights against incurring redundancies as a solution,” he said.

“There is also no question of mothballing our fleet.

“Furloughed drivers will be returning to work in the run-up to schools reopening.

“As per Scottish Government guidelines, Highland Council did reimburse us for the schools coach hire contract for the spring term.

“We are now gearing up to transport children for the new term, with anti-virus procedures in place.”

At the start of lockdown, Mr Mathieson called on the Scottish Government to recognise the threat it posed to independent coach operators and this week repeated calls for support for the sector.

“In common with other coach hire operators, we are continuing to press for a support package from the Scottish Government,” he said.

“It has taken some time, but the Confederation of Passenger Transport is in discussions with the Scottish Government on the issue.

“We remain hopeful that something can yet be done.”

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