Bus firm Stagecoach, founded by former Manston Airport owner Ann Gloag, in talks over takeover by National Express

One of the county's biggest bus firms, Stagecoach, is in talks over a takeover by rival National Express.

Stagecoach, which operates routes across Kent, was founded in 1980 by Ann Gloag and her brother Brian Souter. Both continue to hold shares in the firm.

Stagecoach operates services across Kent
Stagecoach operates services across Kent

It was Ann Gloag - name Dame Ann Gloag - who bought Manston Airport in Thanet in 2013 for £1 and vowed to turn it into a thriving business.

A little over a year later she shut it down and sold a majority stake in the site to developers Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave.

Now the business she started could be about to merge with National Express in the most significant move in its 41-year history.

Under the terms of the possible all-share tie-up, National Express - which owns Medway-based Kings Ferry -would own around 75% of the combined group and Stagecoach shareholders around 25%.

The deal would value Stagecoach at £445 million.

National Express would own around 75% of the combined group (John Stillwell/PA)
National Express would own around 75% of the combined group (John Stillwell/PA)

It comes after both firms have been hit hard by the pandemic, with passenger numbers slumping due to lockdowns, remote working and a switch away from public transport.

The groups have outlined plans to slash costs as part of the potential merger, with National Express saying it expects to find annual savings of at least £35million, with around 25% by the end of the first year.

The boards of both firms "believe the potential combination would be a strategically compelling proposition with significant growth and cost synergies, as well as delivering strong value creation for both sets of shareholders".

If the talks lead to a deal, the combined group would see Stagecoach chairman Ray O’Toole become chairman of the board.

National Express boss Ignacio Garat would be chief executive of the enlarged group.

National Express has bus and coach networks across the UK and Spain, while it also runs school bus services in America and a rail franchise in Germany.

The talks come after National Express rejected a £1.7 billion merger deal first mooted by Stagecoach in 2009.

The two firms stressed that talks are ongoing and that there is no certainty a formal offer will be made.

National Express has until 5pm on October 19 to make a firm offer or walk away, under City Takeover Panel rules.

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