Bus operator Stagecoach has warned that it expects a "lasting effect" from the coronavirus pandemic on demand for public transport as passenger numbers remain 60% down despite easing lockdown restrictions.

The group reported statutory pre-tax profits slumping to £40.6 million in the year to May from £101.2 million the previous year as results took a hit from Covid-19 as well as the ending of its rail operations in the UK.

Underlying annual pre-tax profits fell 32% to £90.9 million.

Chief executive Martin Griffiths said passenger numbers had recovered a little since the height of the lockdown, when they were 90% lower than a year earlier, but said they are still 60% down even as restrictions have eased.

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: Who will lament demotion of centuries-old Scottish name as Royal Bank of Scotland becomes NatWest Group?

Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach Group Chief Executive, said: “We have achieved a creditable set of financial results in what has been one of the most challenging and sobering periods for citizens, communities and economies across the globe in living memory.

“Throughout these difficult times, our priority has firmly remained the safety and wellbeing of our people and our customers and protecting the long-term sustainability of our business. We are proud of the incredible response of our people and other key workers to the COVID-19 pandemic and the part they have played in getting the country through the worst.  Our thoughts are with the families of our transport colleagues and others who we have lost to COVID-19.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business was on track to meet its expectations for the full year. We made good progress in delivering on our three key strategic objectives: to maximise our core business potential, manage change through our people and technology, and grow by diversifying, while maintaining our relentless focus on safety and customer service. 

“In responding to the more recent global challenges, we have taken decisive action so that the business remains in as strong a position as possible and well placed to secure the significant long-term opportunities we see for public transport."

He added: “Supportive short-term actions by government and our local authority partners have helped protect public transport networks, which are critical to the country. We have also been encouraged by the good momentum created by the positive direction of government bus policy and investment.

“Despite recent events, it is critical that all partners continue to work together to prioritise better mobility, maintain the cleaner air and take action to protect the future of our planet as part of the plan for global recovery. We are ready and committed to play our part in creating further value for our investors, customers, employees, communities and the environment.”

Surging demand for DIY products amid the coronavirus lockdown is set to see B&Q owner Kingfisher deliver rising half-year profits as it revealed that online sales have more than tripled.

The retailer said group like-for-like sales rose 21.6% in its second quarter so far to July 18, boosted by cost-cutting as well as soaring online trading and the phased reopening of stores in France and the UK since mid-April.

READ MORE: Scottish firms ‘caught in a vice’ as diverging policies bring more jobs fears

Group online sales rocketed more than 200% in May and June amid the trend for home improvements as lockdowns across Europe forced households to stay at home.
Kingfisher said like-for-like sales across the UK and Ireland - where it also owns Screwfix - jumped 25.9% last month, while sales leapt 33% in France, where it trades as Castorama and Brico Depot.

Sales have continued to remain strong in July, with UK and Ireland like-for-like growth of 19.6% in the week to July 18 and group online growth of 183.3%.

Kingfisher said: "Based on the strong sales seen to date in the second quarter, combined with cost reductions benefiting the first half, the company anticipates its half-year adjusted pre-tax profit to be ahead of prior year."

But it held off from giving guidance on the full-year out-turn, with group year-to-date same-store sales still showing the impact of the lockdown, down 3.7%.

It added: "While we are entering the second half with a favourable trading backdrop, second-half visibility remains low given uncertainty around Covid-19 and the wider economic outlook."

The update comes after Kingfisher saw pre-tax profits fall to £103 million for the year ending January 31, compared with £300 million the previous year, mainly due to a £441 million hit in exceptional costs, though sales fell 1.5% to £11.5 billion.

Royal Bank of Scotland has hailed a "historic" milestone as it formally changes its name to NatWest Group in a shift away from the brand that was bailed out during the financial crisis.

The name change will be official once it is registered at Companies House in Edinburgh, where the group has its headquarters.

READ MORE: North Sea minnow wins backing from London big hitter

New chief executive Alison Rose unveiled the change in February as part of her new strategy soon after taking on the top job last autumn.

It sees the lending giant move away from a brand that was tarnished by its mammoth £45.5 billion state bailout in 2008.

Bank branches will continue to trade as RBS and the name will still be heavily associated with the business.

But investors and advisers will now know the listed entity as NatWest Group - changing a name that has been in place since the bank's foundation in 1727.

Ms Rose said: "This is a historic day for our bank as we intend to change our name to NatWest Group plc.

"Although there will be no changes to our customer brands, it's a symbolic moment for our colleagues and stakeholders.

"The bank has changed fundamentally over the last decade and now is the right time to align our group name with the brand under which the majority of our business is delivered."

The group - which is still majority-owned by the taxpayer more than a decade since the financial crisis - became one of the biggest banks in the world through an aggressive acquisition trail.

But this unravelled during the crash when it was forced to turn to the Government for bailout cash to avoid collapse and it has since shed much of its international operation and once-mighty investment banking arm.

The group has also been embroiled in a scandal over its treatment of small businesses through its controversial global restructuring group.

The lender also announced on Wednesday that climate change expert Lord Nicholas Stern has been appointed as an independent adviser to NatWest Group.

Lord Stern currently chairs the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and is chairman of London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute.

You can now have the bulletin and the top business news stories sent direct to your email inbox twice-daily for free. Simply tick Business Bulletin AM edition and Business Bulletin PM edition, and Business Week for the weekly round-up on Sunday, in the newsletters section here to sign up: