Scottish bus and rail giant FirstGroup “deeply saddened” by tragic deaths of colleagues

Scottish transport giant FirstGroup has shored up its financial strength and announced more cost-cutting measures as it battles the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

By Perry Gourley
Friday, 24th April 2020, 4:45 pm
FirstGroup is one of the biggest bus operators in Scotland and across the UK. Picture: John Devlin
FirstGroup is one of the biggest bus operators in Scotland and across the UK. Picture: John Devlin

The Aberdeen-headquartered bus and train company has raised £300 million under the UK government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, taking its total lending headroom and free cash up to some £800m.

The update came as the company, which runs services across Scotland, including around the Lothians, said the virus had now claimed the lives of staff across all its divisions in the UK and North America.

Although chief executive Matthew Gregory said the long-term fundamentals of the business “remain sound”, the virus is having a significant impact across its operations.

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Its First Bus services in the UK are currently running at approximately 40 per cent of normal capacity, and passenger volumes are down by some 90 per cent. Under UK and Scottish government support schemes the company is continuing to run services in excess of customer demand to support the needs of key workers.

All of the group’s First Rail franchises are operating under emergency measure agreements with the UK government under which it is paid a fixed management fee.

Revenue at its Greyhound coach business in the US has fallen by 80 per cent since the start of the outbreak, and the business is operating just over a third of its normal timetabled mileage. But it said the division is expected to be a major recipient of US government funding to support intercity bus services.

A “substantial proportion” of the group’s workforce is now on furlough and significant reductions have been made in all non-essential operating and capital spending.

“In certain areas it has been necessary to reduce headcount, particularly where customers have chosen not to support employee retention by maintaining some level of contractual payments during this time,” the group added.

Gregory and chief financial officer Ryan Mangold have volunteered to take a 20 per cent pay cut for three months with chairman David Martin and non-executive directors also volunteering similar reductions in their fees.

A wider group of senior employees across the group have also made voluntary salary reductions and deferrals.

Following discussions with trustees of the First Bus pension schemes, the group’s overall cash contribution has been reduced by more than £10m for the year to 31 March 2021.

Gregory said: “As an organisation we have taken rapid action to manage our costs, preserve cash and protect the group’s financial position in order to ensure we are able to deliver the continuity of transport that is so essential to governments, local communities and our customers both now and once the present crisis is overcome.”

Gregory added he was “deeply saddened” by the tragic deaths of colleagues.

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