Spotlight: Alarms ring at First Group

FirstGroup is one of a handful of local bus groups to have mushroomed in the 90s into a global rail and bus operator.

Next Thursday it is set to report half-year results that build on last year’s turnover of £1.8bn and pre-tax profit of £142m.

Formed in 1995 as FirstBus plc from the merger of Badgerline Group and GRT Bus Group, it has reached its 20% monopoly limit of the UK market.

Last week alarm bells were set ringing over the future of the group’s train franchises – which include Great Eastern, Great Western and North Western – as the Strategic Rail Authority got tough with Connex and stripped it of its South Central franchise.

However, FirstGroup does not share the woes of rival bus and rail conglomerate Stagecoach, and its share price last week stood at a healthy 224p, with a boardroom strategy to concentrate on key UK and US markets well in place.

Deputy chief executive and former finance director Tony Osbaldiston has relocated to look after the company’s growing operation in the USA and earlier sold its Hong Kong-based New World First Bus for £38.7m.

Chartered accountant Iain Lanaghan, 45, took over from Osbaldiston as FD in August, and last month non-executive director and management accountant Andrew Higginson left the board after seven years to concentrate on his job as FD of Tesco.

The group has also sold its stake in Bristol International Airport to raise extra cash to expand its business.

Lanaghan, who trained with KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, was previously FD at oil and gas producer Atlantic Power Group, where he led the merger with Norwegian group Petroleum Geo-Service, and PowerGen International.

Osbaldiston was previously FD of Volvo Car UK and Max Factor UK Group, and last year was awarded Scottish finance director.

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