As part of a review of ‘structural alternatives’ for the division, the transport giant FirstGroup, which operates the South Western Railway and Great Western Railway lines, as well as First Bus, is considering a sale of its UK businesses. This pressure comes from investors that have advised the Aberdeen-based conglomerate to focus on its more profitable North American operations.
That rail division has generated £331 million for the group over the past five years but the group now has ‘concerns with the current balance of risk and reward being offered’.
First’s chief executive Matthew Gregory, told BBC Radio 4 the First Rail business was also under review, depending on future Government strategy.
He said: “We’ve identified there are very limited hard synergies between our businesses particularly, between the UK and the US and we think now is the time for these to be sold.”
In a statement First West of England confirmed it will be ‘pursuing strategic options, through a sale or other means, to separate First Bus from FirstGroup.’
Its spokesman said: “Please be assured as this process unfolds, we will continue to operate our services as usual, including those in the West of England, working closely with our local authority partners and demonstrating our commitment to our customers through the service we offer them.
“We believe it is the right time to pursue structural alternatives so the business can continue to provide excellent service, ensure the best possible future for our staff and continue to meet stakeholders’ requirements.
“The hard work and commitment of our employees has ensured that First Bus is now well-placed for the future and we will keep them up-to-date over the coming months.
“It will be business as usual during the sale process, which has only just started, and the skills and experience of our employees will form a key part of the value of First Bus and be critical to the future development of the business.”
First has made changes to bus services in recent months, with rural routes suffering a number of cuts. Yatton was one of the worst affected areas, losing services to Clevedon and Nailsea.