Profits up at county's top firms

BUSINESS is booming for Suffolk's top firms, according to the new edition of an annual report.

BUSINESS is booming for Suffolk's top firms, according to the new edition of an annual report.

The latest Suffolk Limited study, now in its seventh year, found that among the county's top 100 businesses, turnover has risen 10%, and profits before tax are up by more than a quarter on the previous year.

At the same time, the study, carried out by accountants and business advisers Grant Thornton, found that average wages for Suffolk Ltd staff grew by 2.9% to £20,519.

However, it found the number of people employed by Suffolk Ltd fell by 2,163 to 30,744.

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Operating profits rose 25%, while profit before tax was up 29%.

The report combines the performance of the top 100 firms ranked by turnover into a composite business report.

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Transport and motor retail is still the largest sector, but took a reduced share of Suffolk Ltd's turnover, dropping from 29% to 24%.

Both retail and wholesale distribution and the service sector saw growth to become the second and third largest sectors. Services saw a 71% rise in turnover, increasing its share of Suffolk Ltd from 13% to 20%.

Haulage also performed strongly, with operating profits up 15%. Only food and agriculture and technology suffered a fall in operating profits, with the food and agriculture sector's profits plummeting by nearly 80%.

Property and construction celebrated a 65% rise in profits and saw its sales increase by 9%.

Manufacturing made up 10% of Suffolk Ltd's turnover, generating 22% of its profits. The retail and wholesale distribution sector's operating profits rose by 37%.

Acting chief executive of Suffolk Development Agency Julian Munson welcomed the findings of the study.

“The signs for this year are positive with both turnover and profits rising significantly within the top 100. Major construction and regeneration projects across the county continue to attract greater levels of investment as well as supporting local companies through contract opportunities and this is reflected in a relatively buoyant local economy,” he said.

In a local labour market where the average wage was below the national average, news of an increase in average staff wages among the top 100 firms was welcome, he said.

Graham Shorter, partner at Grant Thornton's Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds offices, said businesses were rebounding strongly after relatively poor figures last year.

“This year's results paint a much more positive picture of the trading and profitability of Suffolk Ltd,” he said.

“With the exception of food and agriculture, which appears to have been hit even further by unfavourable market conditions, most sectors have rebounded strongly from the relatively poor results in last year's report to deliver a really strong year - the most profitable since Suffolk Ltd started seven years ago.”

The largest employer was the East of England Co-operative Society with 5,243 staff. Combined turnover for the top 100 was £5,341million this year, and profit before tax was £137million. Last year, profit before tax was lower than for the previous three years at £106million.

The fastest-growing company in Suffolk Ltd with a turnover growth of 126% was Suffolk Life Group, which administers self-invested personal pensions and topped the fast growers table for the services sector. The transport and motor retail sector's top grower was John Grose Group Ltd, with a 24% increase; retail and wholesale distribution. East of England Co-operative Society was the retail and wholesale distribution sector's top grower with a 62% increase. SLP Holdings Ltd, an oil and gas industry engineering firm, was top in the manufacturing sector with a 62% rise. In food and agriculture, British and Brazilian Produce Ltd saw the biggest growth at 68%, and in property and construction, civil engineer the Breheny Group saw a 41% turnover increase.

The minimum turnover level for inclusion in the report was around £13million this year. The average number of employees per company fell from 329 to 307, a 7% decrease.

With the exception of the services sector, all sectors were employing fewer staff than last year, with food and agriculture cutting its workforce by 1,414 following a tough trading year and various site closures.

The retail and wholesale sector remained the largest employer in Suffolk Ltd by a considerable margin.

Suffolk Ltd shareholder funds saw a £202million or a 24% increase over the previous year.

Turnover in the transport and motor retail sector was £1,263million, £1,054million in the services sector, £1,116million for retail and wholesale distribution, £543million for manufacturing, £19million for the technology sector which saw a sizeable drop in turnover from last year's £28million, £501million for property and construction, and £844million for the food and agriculture sector.

Debtor days showed an improvement within Suffolk Ltd, with a fall from 33 days to 31 days, and services continued to have the lowest debtor days at 14 days compared to 22 days in the previous year.

Meanwhile manufacturing debtor days increased from 52 days to 56 days, and food and agriculture saw a rise from 34 days to 37 days. Transport and motor retail debtor days increased from 33 days to 35 days.

The findings of the Suffolk Ltd report are due to be unveiled today at an invitation-only event at Trinity Park, Ipswich. Guest speakers include chief executive of Zetar plc Ian Blackburn and chief economist of HSBC Bank Dennis Turner.

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