Essex Ltd survey shows county’s top firms defying the gloom

ESSEX businesses are responding positively to “extremely challenging” market conditions and economic uncertainty, according to a new report.

Essex Ltd, compiled by business advisers Grant Thornton in association with Essex law firm Birkett Long, involves a composite set of annual accounts for the 100 biggest independent companies based in the county.

The figures cover the immediate post-recession period, during a time of low growth but, despite this, annual turnover among the 100 companies grew by a robust 12% to �7.43billion.

Operating profit increased from �136million to �263m, and profit before tax (which also takes into account exceptional costs such as restructuring) came in at �121m, following a �60m loss the previous year.

Total employment among the 100 companies stood at 50,236, an increase of 2,396 over the year.

The largest sector in Essex Ltd, by both the number of firms and its share of total turnover, is Retail and Wholesale Distribution, with 29 companies contributing 30% of sales. The sector is also the largest employer, with nearly 19,000 staff.

Turnover across the 29 companies totalled �2.256bn, up 6% on the previous year, while operating profits were 32% ahead at �77m.

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Property and Construction is the second-biggest sector in the report, again by both representations (17 companies) and turnover (24%).

Revenue in the sector, which has a workforce of 6,587, totalled �1.433bn, up 22%, while operating profit grew by 35% to �56million.

Third largest in the survey, also with 17 members but smaller in terms of turnover, is the Services sector. where sales grew by 10% to �721m and operating profit by 21% to �23m.

Services saw the biggest percentage increase in employment of any sector, with growth of 14% to 4,107.

In fourth place by number of companies, but third in terms of turnover, is Transport, with 13 firms in the survey and sales of �1.267bn, up 19%.

The sector delivered a combined operating profit of �43m, against a loss the previous year of �25m, although largely reflected a reversal of fortunes for its two largest players.

Manufacturing contributed 11 companies to the survey, with turnover and operating profit largely flat compared with the previous 12 months at �542m and �23m respectively.

The Motor Retail sector provided seven members, which together recorded a 6.3% increase in turnover to �553m and a 29% rise in operating profit to �9m, a figure assisted by the Government’s car scrappage scheme.

Completing the line-up was Healthcare, with six companies in the survey which grew their turnover by 13% to �343m while their operating profits more than doubled to �32m.

James Brown of Grant Thornton said: “Essex is an exciting, entrepreneurial and diverse county and home to many highly successful companies.

“In keeping with the county’s resourceful and determined reputation in business, Essex Ltd has achieved very impressive results during a period of extremely challenging market conditions and economic uncertainty.”

Essex Ltd is modelled on the Suffolk Ltd report, also run by Grant Thornton, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

Essex Ltd was launched at breakfast-time event at the Radisson Blu hotel at Stansted on Friday, with Stuart James, finance director of Tiptree prepserves company Wilkin & Sons as guest speaker.

A second breakfast event, for the south of the county, is being held today at Stock Brook Country Club, near Billericay, where Charles Hindson, group finance director of e2v, the Chelmsford-based technology solutions company, is due to be the guest speaker.