First to step up asset sales

FirstGroup is set to reduce its UK bus business to around seven eighths of its present size, with chief executive Tim O’Toole hoping to raise over £100million from the sale of underperforming peripheral businesses.

The process has already begun to accelerate, with First confirming the £14million sale of its Northumberland Park depot in north-east London to Go-Ahead Group, reaching a conditional agreement to sell its North Devon operations to Stagecoach for £2.8million and — following the failure of sales talks — making a substantial reduction in its Scotland East network around Edinburgh.

O’Toole says First is accelerating the sale of peripheral businesses after fares increases — introduced in the face of steep cost increases — accelerate the loss of passengers in some areas earlier this year, especially in parts of Scotland and northern England.

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