Elite list is sure to provide many surprises
The elite of North East business will stand up and be counted soon. As publication of a new North East Top 200 nears, so does speculation. The list is also a fascinating snapshot of the region's economy. Brian Nicholls reports.
YOU could be forgiven for thinking that with all the talk of hard times going on, the North East Top 200 list this year threatens a depressing read.
After all, regardless of the companies’ final places on the region’s ladder of outstanding success, won’t they all show plummeting turnovers?
Not so, says Lauren Huntington who, for Durham Business School, leads the formidable task of compiling the list for The Journal Top 200, sponsored this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC).
“The picture is far from consistent in terms of rises and falls in turnover,” she says. “True, quite a number of turnovers are down but many have held up well. Some are up, and there are a number of outstanding performances given the condition of their market places.”
Many companies, though, seem to be putting off the inevitable – leaving till last minute their annual filing with Companies House. Hopefully this is coincidence rather than boardroom Mr Micawbers hoping something will better will turn up.
“If there are companies out there feeling a little down because their performance in the latest financial year hasn’t been quite up to what they had hoped, they can at least feel assured that they will not be the only ones in that situation,” Lauren suggests.
“But I’d appeal in the interests of the region’s knowledge bank of business for any company that is sitting on its results for as long as possible to make those results known now instead.”
Even while figures are still being put into context, many interesting talking points arise. Will Arriva, Sunderland’s international giant of public transport, stay atop? Or will Nissan, with its upsurge in car sales from the scrappage scheme, have sold enough to regain top place, which it last held in 2008?
If Arriva does stay top will it be for the last time, given its agreement to a £1.9bn takeover by German giant Deutsche Bahn? It need not be, if the new owner lets Arriva retain a UK headquarters in the North East with a measure of financial autonomy.
Then what of the other five companies whose turnover on the table last year came in billions? These comprise Amec engineering services in Darlington (a star since emerging as highest new entrant in 2007), Hunstman Petrochemicals in Redcar and three Newcastle-based businesses, the Go-Ahead public transport group, Sage software group and housebuilder Bellway.
Huntsman Petrochemicals has been sold to Sabic (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation) which is unlikely to meet all conditions of inclusion.
The remainder have had mixed fortunes, which may become evident in the period recorded by the 200. But even with dipped sales they could retain or even gain a place or two.
And there’s always the chance of a dark horse or two stalking up front.
Vertu plc, the soaringly successful motor dealership, recently reported turnover 7.3% up at £818.9m. This Newcastle firm could clearly upset the placings.
Many newcomers will feature. There were 37 new entries and re-entries last year, eight more than the year before. They always spice up the outcome and if their upward trend has continued, bearing in mind that some very bright young businesses are emerging in the new economy, then we’re sure to see names appearing as if from nowhere.
Interest will also surround the highest climbers of recent years: Tanfield of Washington, seeking a global name in green transport, construction group Frank Haslam Milan of Sunderland and Aesica Pharmaceuticals of Cramlington will be checked to see if their upward trend continues.
One former table topper out this year will be Northern Rock, still partly nationalised but showing potential to return to the private sector.
That would make it a Top 200 contender again, albeit further down-table, given its present level of mortgage business standing at 20% of what it was at peak.
Lauren predicts that whatever the table’s final appearance – and it is still being compiled – the 2010 table will give many talking points and surprises.