First has neither confirmed nor denied a business press report that the group is negotiating the sale of its loss-making operations in Greater Manchester.
The Daily Telegraph reported in early February that the group is preparing to pull out of the city region and that it may sell the three remaining depots at Oldham, Bolton and Manchester Queens Road to separate buyers. Together, they operate around 550 vehicles.
It is one of the beneficiaries of the Ultra Low Emission Bus Scheme grants for electric vehicles announced in February (see this page). The report also suggests that First might sell them for as little as £20million. It paid £47million in 1996 for GM Buses North, the core part of today’s business, and in 2012 sold its Wigan operations to Stagecoach for £12million.
Analysis of First Bus subsidiaries’ accounts at Companies House by the fortnightly Passenger Transport magazine shows First Manchester was the group’s biggest loss maker in 2017/18, recording a £5.8million operating deficit on £86.1million turnover. It made a £3.5million operating profit on £101.1million turnover in 2012/13.
Other subsidiaries showing operating losses were First Aberdeen, Essex, Hampshire & Dorset, Scotland East, South Yorkshire and York. First Glasgow and West Yorkshire recorded the highest profits.
First told The Daily Telegraph ‘We don’t comment on market rumours or speculation. We keep all bus services, depots and the business portfolio under constant review so we can be responsive to changes in market conditions.’