Birmingham-based National Express has delivered more economic woe after announcing plans to cut up to 750 jobs in a bid to save £15 million a year.

The train and bus operator, which runs the East Coast and East Anglia rail franchises, said the review of staffing would focus on support services and administration across all its businesses.

The proposals are still subject to consultation, but National Express said the total of up to 750 roles included a previously-announced plan to close a call centre in Norwich.

The scale of the impact of the cutbacks on the West Midlands was unclear, although some of the 420-strong workforce at the new Birmingham head office at Five Ways will be affected. The National Express job cuts were announced as new national figures showed dole queues had grown to more than a million for the first time in eight years. The UK claimant count soared by 75,700 in November, the biggest monthly increase since the spring of 1991, taking the total to 1.07 million.

And the overall number of unemployed people, including those not eligible for benefits, increased by 137,000 in the quarter to October to 1.86 million, the highest figure for more than a decade.

National Express has also announced plans to increase most of its bus fares across the region for the first time in 12 months.

The increases, which come into effect from January 2 next year, will apply to weekly travel cards and those fares paid with cash on the bus.

Single adult fares will increase by 10p to £1.20 for a short hop journey, and 20p to £1.70 for longer journeys. A child single rises from 55p to 60p and 75p to 85p respectively.

But all existing fares paid by direct debit will be frozen until 2010 and the Daysaver ticket costing £3 will also be frozen when bought in booklets of five.

The company, which employs around 18,000 people in the UK, said it would complete the cost cuts by the end of next year.

National Express chief executive Richard Bowker said: “Looking ahead, the transport sector cannot be wholly immune from the global recession.

“While cautious about the economic outlook, we are taking the initiative to reduce costs across our UK operations and counteract any slowdown in growth.”

He said the uncertain economic climate meant the company had seen an increase in monthly renewals of season tickets.

Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, called for urgent talks with National Express over the planned 750 job losses.

He said: “This is bad news for the rail industry and means that National Express must think we are heading into a really deep recession.

“The worrying thing is that jobs are going when passenger numbers are still growing. We will do all we can to protect jobs and services.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling said: “It’s clear now that job losses are spreading far beyond financial services, housing and retail sectors.

“It is particularly alarming that announcements like this are coming before Christmas and therefore suggesting many businesses like National Express are facing real pressure.”