FIRST Group has stressed the bus business is "not for sale" following rumours about it changing hands.

This paper heard the rumours circulating this week that First Buses had been purchased by Rotala Plc, the parent company of Diamond Bus - the other major operator of buses in the county.

Sources also told us that land First owned, in Padmore Street, had also been sold, with claims Diamond had purchased land elsewhere in the city to prepare for the takeover.

The Worcester News approached the First Group for a statement but a spokesman for First Worcestershire was quick to completely quash the rumours.

The spokesman said none of this was true; both rumours of a sale of the firm and the sale of the land being inaccurate.

Earlier this year First confirmed to us it wasn't currently looking to sell its UK division.

This was a u-turn, as last year the company had said it would be "pursuing strategic options, through a sale or other means" to offload the bus part of its business.

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But in January First Group issued a statement, with Nigel Eggleton, managing director at First Worcester, saying they were now not currently in a sale process.

"Our bus companies are attractive businesses and we are confident that greater value can be created from more efficient operations," Mr Eggleton said.

"We are delivering on plans that will improve operational performance in First Bus and the results of this will be visible in the coming months, and beyond.

"Therefore, we intend to deliver these improvements before launching any sale process.

"In the meantime, we will continue to provide a comprehensive network of services across Worcester and the shire, linking communities and working with Worcestershire County Council and their officers on priority measures to improve access for buses and reduce the problem of congestion across the city."

First Bus employs around 17,500 staff, including 13,450 drivers.