FirstGroup to sell bus operations


FirstGroup has announced plans to sell off its bus operations in the UK and Greyhound buses in America as it seeks a restructure to keep investors happy.

The news comes after the company said it lost £327m in the year to 31 March 2018, compared with a profit of £152.6m in 2017, leading to the departure of chief executive Tim O'Toole.

A FirstGroup bus in Bristol

This year the group's annual loss in just shy of £100m.

The Aberdeen-based company operates a fifth of all local bus services outside London as well the South Western Railway and TransPennine Express rail franchises.

It is reported to be under pressure from investors to reorganise and make changes at board level, and is set to concentrate on the North America market.

A First Group spokesperson said: ‘Today we announced that we will be pursuing strategic options, through a sale or other means, to separate First Bus from FirstGroup.

‘Please be assured that as this process unfolds, we will continue to operate our services as usual, working closely with our local authority partners and demonstrating our commitment to our customers through the service we offer them.

‘In recent years we have improved customer service at First Bus by investing in our buses and new technology, transforming our networks, and making operations and maintenance more efficient.

‘As a result, First Bus is now on a much stronger footing, and we believe it is the right time to pursue structural alternatives so the business can continue to provide excellent service, ensure the best possible future for our staff and continue to meet stakeholders’ requirements.'

The trade union Unite has about 20,000 members working for First Bus and said it would not tolerate a single job loss or reduction in members’ terms and conditions as a result of the sell-off process.

Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: 'On one hand, FirstGroup has praised staff for their hard work and commitment and then, in the next breath, it announces it is selling off First Bus because of so-called ‘limited synergies’ between the parent company and the bus operations.

'If any potential buyer for any of First Bus’ operations in the UK thinks that there are rich and short-term easy pickings at our members’ expense, they will need to think again.

'We regard bus services as a public service for the travelling public and not a vehicle for heavyweight corporates to squeeze the last ounce of profit from bus services.'

Unite will be holding a meeting of its First Bus reps from across the UK in London on 11 June, when First Bus executives will be in attendance.

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