A bus firm that was ordered off the road for trying to imitate Stagecoach services has enlisted the help of publicity guru Max Clifford in an attempt to improve its battered reputation.

Bankfoot Buses, based outside Perth, is attempting the public makeover after having its licence confiscated by Scotland’s Traffic Commissioner last year and being subjected to an ongoing criminal investigation for allegedly trying to defraud the Government’s concessionary travel scheme.

The task of salvaging the firm’s reputation has apparently been taken on with relish by Mr Clifford, who has boasted of turning around the fortunes of figures such as Gerald Ratner, whose family firm collapsed after he famously called its jewellery “crap”.

Bankfoot has built up a colourful reputation since it was set up in 2007 by English couple Stuart and Sarah Newing-Davis. Having moved to Bankfoot from their home in London, they used the profits from two recruitment businesses to subsidise an hourly service between Perth and Dunkeld.

Among the publicity stunts the company has staged are offering free mulled wine and mince pies to Christmas shoppers and having their drivers wear fancy dress.

Mr Newing-Davis said he had fought a “David and Goliath” battle with Stagecoach, the Perth-based company founded by Brian Souter.

He said he had hired Mr Clifford as part of a “last throw of the dice” before an appeal next week against a decision to ban him indefinitely from holding a bus operator’s licence.

“We’ve got a lot of loyalty from people in Bankfoot who want to see the service continued. They’re the real losers in this, while our names have been dragged through the mud,” he said.

He was supported yesterday by Gordon Banks, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, who said: “I’ve had a lot of correspondence from residents in the area who want the Bankfoot bus service bought back.”

Mr Newing-Davis conceded there was a lot of bad publicity to make up for. The company had its licence removed in April last

year after Traffic Commissioner Joan Aitken found it had imitated Stagecoach buses, using similar vehicles, livery and company uniforms and running free services just ahead of those registered to its bigger rival.

A fresh hearing six months later led to Bankfoot’s licence being removed indefinitely.

The company is also alleged to have put in £58,000 in fraudulent claims to Government agency Transport Scotland under the concessionary travel scheme. A trial is set for March 23 at Perth Sheriff Court.

A statement from Max Clifford Associates that the firm’s troubles had been caused by a “string of false allegations”

yesterday drew a frosty response from the Traffic Commissioner, who said she had made a “balanced judicial decision” and that operators were given “every opportunity” to represent their case.