By Scott Wright

THE outgoing boss of Alexander Dennis Limited has expressed fears the company may be forced to make redundancies if demand for buses from UK transport companies does not recover sufficiently from the Covid-19 crisis.

Colin Robertson will step down as chief executive of Falkirk-based ADL in September, it was announced yesterday, after leading the company to its £320 million takeover by North American bus and coach giant NFI Group in May of last year.

Mr Robertson, who has led the firm for 13 years, will join the board of directors at Toronto-listed NFI, taking up the non-executive position of vice chair, when he is replaced by ADL stalwart Paul Davies. Mr Davies joined the company in 1997 and has led its operation in the Asia-Pacific region for the last 20 years.

Speaking to The Herald, Mr Robertson said he had hugely enjoyed his tenure at ADL, “through the good, the bad and the ugly”, but expressed sadness that he would be handing over the reins at such a difficult time. Before coronavirus struck, ADL had been “firing on all 12 cylinders” and on course to turn over more than £700m for the first time. Then orders from customers such as Transport for London dried up as companies were forced into survival mode, with governments on both sides of the Border stepping in with emergency funding to help ensure services could continue for key workers during lockdown.

Mr Roberston, 55, said it would heart-breaking if ADL had to make redundancies after building it into a profit-making concern. The company was rescued in 2004 by a consortium including Stagecoach founders Sir Brian Souter and Ann Gloag, Sir Angus Grossart and former Rangers owner Sir David Murray after it had become caught up in the administration of former parent Transbus.

Mr Robertson said: “Manufacturing needs a steady diet of work. Unless something changes soon, we will have to significantly reduce our capacity. We will just need to take a hatchet to our cost base, sadly.”

Asked if that would involve redundancies, Mr Robertson said: “We have 2,500 people in the UK. If demand drops by 20 to 30 per cent or more, in the near term you are looking at a big restructuring.

“If, six or 12 months down the road, there is no visibility of recovery, you are looking at potential plant closures, just real radical stuff which would be really sad because we have worked really hard to grow this business into a proper international player. It would break your heart if we ended up going there.”

He added: “Our international business has been affected, but nowhere near as much as the UK. That will help a bit.”

ADL currently employs around 1,000 people in Scotland, and has been gradually bringing people back from furlough to test its social distancing protocols. It is now working at around 30% capacity.

Mr Davies, who will become ADL’s president and managing director, will return to his native Scotland to take over from Mr Robertson.

Mr Robertson said he was delighted Mr Davies had been appointed his successor, stating that he knows the company and industry extremely well having risen through the ranks of ADL. “He is very bright and has a good head on his shoulders,” Mr Robertson said.

Mr Davies said: “I have been very fortunate to have worked for Colin for the past 13 years and I am deeply honoured to have been selected to take on the challenge of continuing the amazing journey that we’ve experienced under his leadership. I look forward to continue working with the NFI and ADL teams and our partners to provide world-class transport solutions that deliver for our customers.”

In addition to his new role at NFI, Mr Robertson has set up a small private investment company. “I would love to invest in smaller businesses that have the potential to grow and maybe just need someone to help them,” he said.