Bus performance of back-in-profit FirstGroup criticised

FirstGroup reported pre-tax profits of 58.5 million in the year to 31 March 2014, compared to a loss of 28.9m last year. .

Chief Executive Tim O’Toole [pictured] said First Student, which runs the yellow buses and Greyhound were hit by poor weather, leaving profits down at 93.5m, from 110.1m.

Nevertheless John McFarlane, the new Chairman since January, has delivered a caustic appraisal of the group, which one year on from a deeply discounted 615m rescue rights issue, has reported revenues down 3% at 6.7bn and falling earnings with no sign of a dividend payout.

Mr McFarlane is sharply critical of First’s UK bus operations and First Student, putting pressure on Chief Executive Tim O’Toole, who was appointed three-and-a-half years ago. “We cannot escape that we should have managed them better,” says Mr McFarlane.

He also moved to clear out the board he inherited in January, while he appeared to raise the possibility of a break-up of the group.

Despite the rights issue, First remains highly leveraged following its 2007 deal to by Laidlaw in the US, prompting speculation that the Group may be broken up as a way of correcting the over-borrowing.

Among those stepping down from the board is David Begg, the high-profile transport consultant and former Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport and Non-Executive Director of the Strategic Rail Authority.