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National Express posts big loss after passenger numbers fall during pandemic – but bosses remain 'fundamentally positive'

By James Pugh | Business | Published:

National Express is budgeting for a slow recovery in bus service demand after posting a large first-half-of-the-year loss.

National Express operates bus services in the West Midlands

The Birmingham-headquartered company, which operates bus services across the West Midlands, saw revenues in the six months to June fall 22.7 per cent to £1.03 billion, while it also had a pre-tax loss of £122 million.

Buses were deemed essential services during the coronavirus lockdown period and kept running, and this week the UK Government announced a package worth about £27m a week to support bus operators indefinitely.

Many of National Express’s operations in Spain, Morocco and the US also have fixed revenues but bus usage slumped during the lockdown period and have only just started to recover slowly from the height of lockdown, it said.

In most areas, passenger numbers are now at between 45 and 65 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, though UK coaches are only at 20 per cent.

Chief executive Dean Finch said: "While there are some signs of demand returning, levels are both significantly reduced and subject to variability given local lockdowns.

"We do not know when pre-pandemic levels of demand will return but we have developed plans to respond to future scenarios and maintain safe and efficient operations, thereby ensuring the continued financial well-being of the group."

Net debt at the end of June was £1.34bn, though National Express said it had £1.7bn in cash, committed facilities and government loan schemes and generated cash in the second quarter.

Chief executive Dean Finch said: "This has been an unprecedented period for us all and I am very proud of the response of colleagues across National Express. We worked quickly to put safety measures in place to protect customers and colleagues.

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"During the lockdown we proactively communicated with customers to vary service and negotiate additional support and payments. We have also secured exceptional governmental funding across all of our major markets and made use of furlough schemes.

"The group has significantly strengthened its financial position to navigate the pandemic. The decisive actions taken by our management team have no doubt secured the group's continuing future.

"We remain fundamentally positive about the future. The diversification of the group in recent years has provided resilience during the pandemic, as risk has been spread. In addition, we believe our leadership positions in many diverse and attractive markets are likely to strengthen, as other operators are unable to withstand the impact of the pandemic."

James Pugh

By James Pugh

Shropshire Star Business and Farming Editor.

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