Transport firms gear up for top honours

The North's biggest companies were celebrated at a special breakfast. Brian Nicholls reports on The Journal's Top 200

The North's biggest companies were celebrated at a special breakfast. Brian Nicholls reports on The Journal's Top 200

Public transport tops the bill of North-East corporate achievement. Bus and train operator Arriva is the number one company in the North-East and Cumbria Top 200 list, now in its 26th year.

Active both in the UK and on mainland Europe, Arriva's roots go back to an earlier Sunderland business, set up by the Cowie family in 1938 to sell motorcycles.

As this post-war business diversified into car sales, it became a public company in 1965 and, under Sir Tom Cowie, entered the Top 200 list in 1979 - in 12th place.

Cowie's turnover then was £52m. Today Arriva's turnover, the biggest of any among the companies of the region, stands beyond £2bn.

Having entered the new millennium focused on the rail market, Arriva is now shedding car dealerships to concentrate even more intensively on public transport.

It entered the lists under its present name in 1998, coming second only to Procter & Gamble, the health and hygiene global giant. P&G, because of an internal restructure, is no longer in the list's reckoning, though it remains one of the biggest operations in the region.

Arriva looks set to pull in even more business as it benefits further from London's congestion tax squeezing commuters out of private and into public transport.

Similar gains could go to Go-Ahead Group which has moved five places up the table from 12th to seventh.

Carrying 650million passengers annually - particularly in the North-East, London and the South-East - it claims about 6pc of the entire public transport market in the UK. Like Arriva, it claims about 20pc of the London bus market. It is also into parking and airport logistics.

Busways too, of Sunderland, has found a route into the list.

In private transport, The Top 200 has plenty of wheels to roll on. Car manufacturer Nissan retains second place.

Among the vehicle dealers, Reg Vardy Group of Sunderland has moved up a place this year to fifth with a turnover of £1.3bn.

Addison Motors, Jennings and Mill Garages are all listed, as too are County Garage Group, South Cleveland Garages, Silbury 168, Volvo Truck and Bus, Richard Hardie and Bell Brothers

Housebuilder Barratt Developments, up two places, and Northern Rock, unchanged, are third and fourth on the list. Meanwhile, in an achievement totally different, K Home Engineering is North-East Company of the Year. It won the title in The Journal and Evening Gazette North-East Business Awards.

The Thornaby firm, a stalwart in management and engineering design, pipped Durham Pine and Wellstream to the title.

The company, which employs 350 people, is a specialist in the petrochemical, oil and gas, aluminium, pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and food sectors.

Its sectoral success stems from heavy investment in new hi-tech systems, and from its ability to retain its trained engineering talent: around 90pc of the 100 apprentices it has taken on over the past 12 years still work with the company.

K Home Engineering was one of 10 companies to win top honours in the regional grand final of the awards.

The final brought together 30 winners from each of the three sub-regional finals held earlier, covering Tyneside and Northumberland, Durham and Wearside and Tees Valley.

Other winners included Sunderland-based Onyx Scientific, which won the Small Business Award, Newcastle-based Robert Muckle Solicitors, winners of the Business In The Community Award and Walker-based Wellstream (Export Award). Tyne Tees TV's Signpost won the Internet Award, Nonlinear Dynamics, of Newcastle, won Best New Product/Service Award and the Environment Award went to builders George Wimpey City.

Middlesbrough-based hairdressers Contemporary took the Learning, Training & Skills Award, Stanley-based e-comeleon won the Technology Award and the Services Award was clinched by TTE Management & Technical Training.

A special Spirit of Enterprise Award went to Sedgefield Primary Care Trust from Spennymoor.

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Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
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