Elite list is sure to provide many surprises

THE elite of North East business will stand up and be counted soon.

Top 200

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.

Why we're proud to sponsor

Paul Woolston, senior partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Newcastle

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) is the largest professional services firm in the UK. We have always been extremely committed to the local market – our North East practice has 19 partners and directors and more than 300 staff based in the Newcastle office.

Sponsoring The Journal Top 200 is a great privilege and a real opportunity – a chance to celebrate business success in the North East. PwC serves a range of businesses across the region in a variety of sectors and industries and we feel proud to champion their resilience and growth.

Our commitment is to help companies stay ahead through these challenging times and The Journal Top 200 is a great way of celebrating business achievement.

“In the North East PwC is the market leader; over a third of the companies featured in the Top 200 are audit clients. That doesn’t mean we are all about big business; it is one of our best-kept secrets that mid-tier companies contribute to almost half of our revenues, and we are absolutely committed to working with entrepreneurial private companies.

For example, we have worked with Sage and eaga from being fledgling companies and now they are both ranking high in the Top 200.

The economic landscape is starting to show some signs of growth. However, firms remain cautious about the fragile nature of the economy. According to the PwC Regional Trends research, business confidence is average in the North East; an improvement on last year and an indication that the bottom of the recession may have been reached.

There is still a long way to go to restoring business confidence to the levels seen four years ago and we have yet to see the real impact of the coalition government and spending cuts. However, we have made progress in the last year and have noted some areas of growth.

We should never forget that we have some great companies in the North East. This region is very good at reinventing itself and we have got a workforce that is resilient and good at adapting. We should be positive about the future of our region.

Are you in the running?

SHOULD your company be in the North East Top 200?

If its turnover is £20m or so, it’ll be considered. So get your latest annual results on to the records of Companies House and email them also by June 21 to lauren.huntington@durham.ac.uk

A Top 200 ranking does wonders for a company’s reputation in the region and beyond.

The table lists businesses in the private sector, placed from one to 200 on a basis of latest publicly-reported turnover, the turnover in this case being considered a more suitable indicator of growth and success than profit.

To qualify, companies must have their registered office, or a management enjoying considerable financial independence, operating within the region.

Information is drawn from FAME, Companies House and Dun and Bradstreet. For further queries or clarification, contact Lauren Huntington, tel 0191 334 5417, lauren.huntington@durham.ac.uk.

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