30 years ago, our bus services were deregulated and privatised. This has been a disaster for our buses. Fares went up and routes that weren’t profitable were cut, meaning you now pay more for less.  In 2017, the Bus Service Users Bill was passed, which included a clause which bans local councils from creating their own public bus companies. 

On this page are the Big Five bus companies that grew out of deregulation and privatisation in the 1980s - together they control 70% of the bus travel industry in the UK. Many of these companies either own, or are owned by, rail companies as well.

Read more about bus services, and how and why we want to bring them into public ownership, here.


Go-Ahead runs bus services across the South of England and North East England. It is one of the big 5 private bus operators that run 70% of the UK's bus routes.

Go-Ahead runs Govia, which is a joint operation between Go-Ahead Group (65%) and Keolis (35%). Keolis is majority-owned by the French state railway operator SNCF. Govia has a number of subsidiary train franchises, including Govia Thameslink Railway (which runs Thameslink, Great Northern and the troubled Southern franchise), Southeastern and London Midland.

The Govia Thameslink (Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern) franchise is due for renewal in 2021. Southeastern franchise is due for renewal in 2018, and London Midland is due for renewal in 2017

Go-Ahead is a UK plc, listed on the London Stock Exchange. It has its headquarters in Newcastle and grew out of the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986..

Arriva was taken over in 2010 by Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned rail and transport company. It is a multinational transport company, with its headquarters in Sunderland and was established in the 1930s. It is divided into three main components - mainland Europe, UK Trains and UK Bus.

​Arriva UK Bus operates nearly 6,000 buses in the UK.  

Arriva UK Trains runs Arriva Trains Wales (franchise due for renewal in 2018), Northern Rail, which operates train services across the North of England (franchise due for renewal in 2025), and CrossCountry, which operates long-distance and inter-city rail services throughout the country, including UK's longest direct rail service from Aberdeen to Penzance.

Arriva also provides ambulance services in parts of the UK. 

They have come under investigation from the Competition and Markets Authority because of their near-monopolistic hold on bus and train services in the north of England, and have been accused of abandoning passengers by hiking fares and cancelling services.


Stagecoach is one of the big 5 private bus operators that run 70% of the UK's bus routes. With 16% of the bus market and 25% of the rail market, including a 49% stake in Virgin Rail Group, Stagecoach is the second largest transport group in the United Kingdom, close behind First Group. 

Stagecoach and Virgin are behind the notorious East Coast Mainline that connects London to Edinburgh. The route was previously operated by the publicly-owned East Coast. The franchise is due for renewal in 2023.

Stagecoach also partly owns Virgin West Coast Mainline and the East Midlands franchise (which is up for renewal in 2018).

Stagecoach is a UK plc listed on the London Stock Exchange, with its headquarters in Perth.



First group is a British transport company, with its headquarters in Aberdeen. It is the largest transport operator in the UK, and owns Great Western Railways, which operates in South West England and South Wales, the franchise is due for renewal in 2020; and the Transpennine Express which operates in the North of England and Scotland - the franchise is due for renewal in 2023. First operates the South Western franchise running services from London Waterloo across Southern England and the Isle of Wight.

First Group is also the UK's biggest bus operator and runs nearly 9,000 buses across the country.  It also runs transport services in Ireland and the United States. 




National Express is a UK plc listed on the London Stock Exchange, and has its headquarters in Birmingham.

National Express operates local bus services in Scotland and the West Midlands as well as national and international coach services. It is one of the big 5 private bus operators that runs 70% of the UK's buses. They also operate tram and light rail services in the Midlands.

The company ran the failed East Coast Railway before it collapsed and was renationalised in 2009. 

Have you seen a story of privatisation failing? Email us the link at info@weownit.org.uk and we'll add it to the list!

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