TRANSPORT group FirstGroup froze its dividend today following the West Coast rail franchise fiasco, but said it remained “committed” to UK rail.
The company, whose appointment to take over the line from Virgin Rail was cancelled due to a flawed bidding process, is holding its interim dividend at last year’s level and will review the full-year payment once its rail prospects are clearer in the wake of government reviews.
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup paid £12.3 million in total UK rail bidding costs, including for the West Coast franchise.
The Department for Transport has already said it will repay bidding costs to the four groups involved in the botched bid process and FirstGroup said it was in discussions with Government over the bill it incurred.
Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said “no one is a winner” after the West Coast blunder, which has led to two separate inquiries into the West Coast bid process and wider franchise arrangements in the UK.
FirstGroup, which runs First Great Western, TransPennine Express, First Capital Connect and Scotrail services, was also shortlisted for three franchises, which have all now been put on hold after an inquiry discovered flaws in the DfT’s bidding process.
FirstGroup said it was “extremely disappointed and frustrated at this extraordinary series of events”.
But it added: “We remain committed to maintaining our leading position in the rail market and are actively engaging with the ongoing reviews to help shape the future of franchising.”
In half-year results also announced today, FirstGroup reported a 42 per cent fall in underlying pre-tax profits to £48.7m, but said it was on track with its turnaround plan and remained focused on reviving its UK bus business.