Opening Quote: YouGov predicts more profit, FirstGroup wins South-Western rail franchise

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YouGov will predict something with 100 percent accuracy today: in at least one news report, it is certain to be described as an “opinion pollster”, despite the fact that it now derives less than 1 per cent of its revenue and profit from ascertaining the ill-informed “will of the people”.

And this morning, the benefit of its diversification into data and service products was a matter of fact rather than opinion: revenue in the six months to January 31 rose 24 per cent to £51.4m, enabling adjusted pre-tax profit to increase 27 per cent to £6.3m.

Net cash balances came in at £15.0m, up from £10.1m a year ago – even better than the £13.0m YouGov had indicated in its January trading update.

Much of the improvement came in its data products and services division. Its BrandIndex service, for advertising agencies and their clients, increased its sales by 36 per cent to £9.2m, while its Profiles revenue was up by 175 per cent to £1.4m.

Regionally, the US – which is now YouGov’s largest market in revenue terms – grew its revenue by 29per cent, or 8 per cent in constant currency terms, and Asia Pacific recorded a 91 per cent revenue increase but widened its losses from £0.2m to £0.6m after investment.

Chief executive Stephan Shakespeare said:

“We are investing in technology, constantly improving the scope and depth of our data and leveraging our highly sophisticated core data engine, YouGov Cube. This focus has helped us continue to outperform the market and it is enabling YouGov to expand in new markets and become a powerful global data and analytics brand.”

YouGov also reported trading in the second half of our financial year has started positively and is in line with our expectations.

FirstGroup has been declared the winner of the poisoned chalice of the year award, otherwise known as the new South Western rail franchise. Its 70:30 joint venture with Hong Kong Metro operator MTR will attempt to run trains within a few hours of their scheduled departure and arrival times in and out of London Waterloo for seven years from 20 August 2017.

Over the course of the franchise, passengers will wonder exactly where the £1.2bn First MTR has promised to invest has actually gone, while being shown artists’ impressions of 750 new, spacious train carriages for the Windsor, Reading and London Suburban routes. They will probably become more familiar with the “18 additional fully refurbished trains (90 carriages)” – think garish new paint job – on the London-Portsmouth route from December 2018.

Thousands will look for the “52,000 more peak seats per day at London Waterloo” as they stand all the way from Surrey to the City in an overcrowded carriage originally built in the 1980s. They will, however, have more reliable Wi-Fi, as they attempt to read their morning papers on handheld devices while passing through mobile reception “dark territory” around Wandsworth Town.

FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said:

“Our successful bid will deliver the tangible improvements that customers and stakeholders have told us they want from this franchise. Passengers can look forward to new and better trains, more seats and services, quicker journey times, improved stations and more flexible fare options.”

He did not apologise in advance for the inconvenience caused to your journey.

And, finally, more bad news for BT. Everyone’s favourite telecoms line rental provider has been fined £42m for a “serious breach” of Ofcom’s rules, after it reduced compensation payments to other telecoms providers for late installations.

Its penalty is a result of an investigation by Ofcom into BT’s network arm, Openreach.

This investigation found that, between January 2013 and December 2014, BT misused the terms of its contracts to reduce compensation payments owed to other telecoms providers for failing to deliver ‘Ethernet’ services on time. Ethernet services are the most common type of ‘leased lines’ – dedicated, high-speed cables used by large businesses, and mobile and broadband providers, to transmit data. They also provide vital, high-capacity links for hospitals, schools and libraries.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Investigations Director, said:

“These high-speed lines are a vital part of this country’s digital backbone. Millions of people rely on BT’s network for the phone and broadband services they use every day.

“We found BT broke our rules by failing to pay other telecoms companies proper compensation when these services were not provided on time. The size of our fine reflects how important these rules are to protect competition and, ultimately, consumers and businesses. Our message is clear – we will not tolerate this sort of behaviour.”

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