False Economy ran from 2010-2015. The site is still online for research and archival use but is no longer being updated.
Skip navigation

Fishiest outsourcing firms



FirstGroup was created when the buses were deregulated in 1989, and today is the UK's largest bus operator, carrying three million passengers a day in 40 towns and cities. Its rail operation carries more than 300 million rail passengers a year, on franchises including First Great Western, First Capital Connect and First ScotRail. The company's transport empire extends as far as Greyhound buses in America.

Britain's railway system was recently judged the worst in Europe for fares, efficiency and comfort, which makes it perhaps unfair to single out just one operator. But FirstGroup's franchises in the south west and south east have drawn particular scorn, rebranded by passengers as "Worst Late Western" and "First Crapital Connect". They often lurk at the bottom of performance tables. 

In 2012, FirstGroup was awarded the contract to run the West Coast rail line – and then had the offer withdrawn when the government admitted serious flaws in the bid process. Virgin's Richard Branson called FirstGroup's bid “absolutely preposterous” and said it risks "almost certain bankruptcy”. Branson would say that – but in this case he had both city analysts and the RMT union on his side. The RMT pointed to projections showing FirstGroup's targets would require huge fare rises, and cuts to jobs and onboard catering.

Taxpayers will have to foot the bill of at least £40m to compensate the four shortlisted West Coast bidders, while the government decides what to do next.

FirstGroup is nominated for:
147 votes
Voting has now closed. Thanks to everyone who took part.