FirstGroup shareholders rebel over directors' pay

FirstGroup bus FirstGroup runs extensive rail and bus operations in the UK as well as a bus business in the US

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Transport company FirstGroup's directors have faced down a shareholder rebellion over their pay packages.

Nearly 30% of shareholders voted against approving the directors' remuneration report at the company's annual general meeting in Aberdeen.

FirstGroup had urged them to be patient after admitting its journey back to a "position of strength" would be long.

In May it tapped investors for £615m via a rights issue and cancelled its dividend.

It said its plans required "hard work and persistent delivery" for some time to come.

In a statement after the vote on directors' pay, the company said the remuneration committee had "listened closely to feedback" and would be consulting further with shareholders on future proposals.

Salary 'frozen'

It pointed out that chief executive Tim O'Toole had decided to waive his 2012/13 bonus, "recognising the additional commitment from shareholders, including employees, as a result of the recent rights issue".

The statement added: "In addition, none of the directors are to receive a pay increase in 2013/14, meaning that Tim O'Toole's salary is frozen for a second consecutive year."

In May, shares in the group plunged after it announced a £615m rights issue in a bid to reduce its debt.

The firm, which has extensive rail and bus operations in the UK as well as a bus business in the US, also reported pre-tax profit had plunged 86.7% to £37.2m.

Investment plans

The Aberdeen-based company, which operates First Great Western, First Capital Connect and First ScotRail, is now planning to pour £1.6bn into a four-year investment programme and tackle debts of nearly £2bn.

It has been encouraged by recent trading, with a solid performance in its rail division following like-for-like passenger revenues growth of 5.5% in the period between April and the end of June.

There has also been progress in the turnaround of its UK bus arm after passenger revenues improved by 1.4% on a like-for-like basis.

The group added that its recovery plan for its US student bus operation was on track, although its Greyhound coach arm continues to be impacted by the softness of the US economy.

Chief executive Tim O'Toole said: "Trading during the period was in line with our expectations. While we continue to see challenging conditions in some of our markets, there is considerable long-term opportunity across the group.

"The task of returning the group to the position of strength that our customers, employees, and shareholders expect will require hard work and persistent delivery for some time to come, and we are pleased by the support of our shareholders in the recent rights issue."

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