First reports strong financial performance
First Group reports strong financial performance in its figures for the 52 weeks to 25 March 2023. Group adjusted attributable profit more than doubled, to £82.1m ahead of expectations (FY 2022: £36.2m). Its adjusted operating profit rose to £161m.
First Bus passenger numbers rose dramatically in the period, to 1.1m a day compared to the 0.9m reported in 2022. Commercial and concessionary volumes were up 21% and 19% respectively. Total passenger revenue increased to £660m (2022: £570m), more than offsetting the reduction in government funding, which decreased by £42.8m to £86.5m. Total passenger volumes increased by 20% from FY 2022 levels during the year. The £2 fare cap scheme in England and the free travel for Under 22s scheme in Scotland, in place since January 2022, have both positively impacted volumes.
The company put the improvement in operating margin in the second half of 2023 to 7.9% despite ongoing inflationary pressures down to: increased passenger demand; improved driver availability and operational improvements; network and fare realignments to better match services to demand; and regional management restructure completed to drive further operational efficiencies.
During the period, it acquired Ensignbus in Essex, Airporter in Northern Ireland and the Metrobus service in Bristol. It also disposed of First Scotland East and closed its Southampton-based operations.
“In First Bus, we are seeing the benefits of actions we have taken to transform the business” – Chief Executive Officer, Graham Sutherland
Chief Executive Officer, Graham Sutherland, said: “We have delivered a strong financial performance in FY 2023. In First Rail, our teams have worked extremely hard on our service objectives, and the notable success of our open access operations is further recognition of the considerable expertise and ambition of our team. In First Bus, we are seeing the benefits of actions we have taken to transform the business, and we are establishing ourselves as leaders in decarbonisation as we accelerate the electrification of our bus fleet to deliver value not just for FirstGroup but for all our stakeholders.
“Our leading positions in bus and rail, together with the strength of our balance sheet, will allow FirstGroup to create long-term shareholder value while delivering the vital services and innovation that are key to achieving society’s sustainability and economic goals.”