Profits boost for National Express

PUBLIC transport group National Express said today its recovery programme was running ahead of schedule as it posted an increase in annual profits.

The group, whose rail business includes most train services in East Anglia, said 2010 had been “a year of successful transformation”, following a torrid 2009 which saw it fight off two takeover approaches and a threat by the then government to strip it of its rail franchises.

Operating profits for the 12 months to December 31 grew by 28% to �204.2million, up from �159.8m in 2009, despite a 22% fall in turnover, from �2.711billion to �2.126bn.

Pre-tax profit advanced 38%, from �116.2m to �160.5m, which the group said was 15% ahead of market expectations at the start of the year, and it is restoring its dividend with a proposed payout of 6p per sahre.

Chief executive Dean Finch said: “Our much improved financial performance provides a platform to drive further growth, continue targeted investment and restore a dividend. With a clear focus on our strategy we are confident in the year ahead.”

National Express, which also operates bus and coach services in the UK, continental Europe, North Africa and North America, created a political storm in 2009 when it handed back its franchise to operate train services on the East Coast Main Line.

The operation, for which the group had paid a hefty premium before the recession struck, had become loss-making due to operating surpluses falling short of payments due to the Treasury.

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Ministers threatened to strip the group of its other franchises, National Express East Anglia and south Essex commuter route c2c, but eventually settled for ending both deals early.

The new coalition government last year granted short extensions to both franchises pending reform of the franchising system.