FirstGroup profit doubles to £71.3m in first half

Aberdeen-headquartered transport giant FirstGroup plc said its first-half adjusted profit before tax more than doubled to £71.3 million in the 27 weeks to September 30, 2023, with revenues little changed at £2.2 billion.

Interim dividend rose to 1.5p per share from 0.9p and the firm said £67 million was returned to shareholders in the first half via the group’s share buyback programme.

FirstGroup shares have risen about 66% in 2023 to give it a current stock market value of about £1.1 billion.

FirstGroup has 30,000 employees and transports almost two million passengers a day. Its First Bus business is the second largest regional bus operator in the UK, serving two-thirds of the UK’s 15 largest conurbations with a fleet of more than 4,500 buses, carrying more than a million passengers a day.

The group’s First Rail business is the UK’s largest rail operator which operates a fleet of more than 3,500 locomotives and rail carriages through three management fee-based train operating companies — Avanti West Coast, GWR, SWR — and two open access routes, Hull Trains and Lumo.

FirstGroup said it made a first-half statutory operating loss of £41.4 million which included “charges of £142.3m relating to the group’s termination of its participation in two Local Government Pension Schemes.”

FirstGroup CEO Graham Sutherland said: “I am pleased to report another set of very strong results for the first half of our 2024 financial year.

“First Bus is delivering sustainable revenue growth as we continue to transform the business and our First Rail division also performed well. This is testament to the capabilities and continued hard work of all our teams across the Group.

“We are a resilient and profitable business which is well-positioned to create long-term, value-accretive growth.

“Leveraging our leading positions in bus and rail, supported by our strong balance sheet enables us to continue to play a critical role in supporting governments’ economic, societal and environmental goals.”