Will our transport giants retain the top three titles?

One of the brightest of many bright findings in this year's North East Top 200 Companies is likely to be a confirmation that the existing top 10 pack leaders are continuing, in the main, to make progress against challenges of the economy

Richard Rayner Aerial picture showing the Nissan plant in Sunderland
Aerial picture showing the Nissan plant in Sunderland

One of the brightest of many bright findings in this year’s North East Top 200 Companies is likely to be a confirmation that the existing top 10 pack leaders are continuing, in the main, to make progress against challenges of the economy in general.

Most may even show a welcome increase in the jobs they provide. Top-of-the-table Nissan, which would enjoy its fifth overall success since 2000 if it stays first this year, will have done it knowing all the UK’s new car sales rose for an 18th successive month in August (11% up on last year).

It knows too it has become the biggest UK car factory ever by beating the 500,000 vehicles it built last year. But neither the imminent 25,000sq m expansion of its workspace, nor its new luxury model shortly to roll out there, will have a bearing yet on the table placings. These are decided on latest full-year turnovers.

The North East’s two transport giants second and third last year, DB Arriva and Go-Ahead Group respectively, should also do well.

Arriva announced an 11.6% rise in annual revenues with contract wins, acquisitions and organic growth. Sunderland-based, like Nissan, it’s now also the largest international passenger operator in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s responsible for German giant Deutsche Bahn’s regional passenger services outside Germany, and chief executive David Martin recently affirmed further successful growth and development.

Newcastle based Go-Ahead, running our region’s largest bus fleet, has also disclosed a revenue rise in line with growth targets.

International software giant Sage, currently fourth, has offloaded its construction software arm and recently showed a pre-tax half-year loss (£7.7m) in moving away from stand-alone software packages towards subscription-based online.

But the group said this is paying off, then raised £260m through an oversubscribed US private placement loan to refinance debt facilities. This now permits a workforce boost to accompany a roll-out of a successful product to overseas markets.

Its half-year-loss stemmed largely from the sale of its customer service software in February. Chief executive Guy Berruyer said good growth was still being achieved.

Vertu Motors (up one to fifth last year), continues to raise turnover by astute acquisitions, and is now seventh biggest nationally in its activities with a 3% share of new car sales. The Gateshead group, reaching from Dunfermline to Exeter, thrives on the same market trend as Nissan. Having recently raised £50m in a share placement, it’s likely to go on adding outlets, especially as its like-for-like retail volumes rose 18.6% during four months to June 30. With sales of £1bn-plus two years running already, it should show a hat-trick.

Bellway (up one last year to sixth) continues to advance, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders. With 15 divisions nationwide, the Newcastle group increased sales by 8.2% in the financial year to July 31. As average selling price rose 5%, its turnover could show a 12% rise in this year’s table.

Utility giant Northumbrian Water (up three to seventh last year) recently showed a £27.8m rise in annual revenues as it proposes a five-year plan to invest £1bn.

The outcome of eighth, ninth and 10th will win particular attention. While the second top 10 utility Northern Powergrid may retain 10th or even rise – it hopes to invest £3bn and create maybe 1,000 jobs for the North East over eight years – both Northgate at eighth and Greggs at ninth have been confronting hurdles.

Darlington-based Northgate, the commercial vehicle leasor covering the UK, Spain and Ireland, reported heavy losses to last April. But it’s now expanding UK operations by 30%-plus following a net debt reduction of more than half a billion pounds.

Meanwhile, Greggs, high street friend of hungry hordes, did lift sales by £34m during 2012, though lower pre-tax profits were followed by a profits warning in April. Roger Whiteside, chief executive since February, has a priority now of stifling the competition from intensified rivalry in its sector. Greggs’ recent interims showed shop sales down 29% for six months to June 29, though this won’t enter current Top 200 reckoning.

Besides any reshuffling of the above front runners, companies like Carillion, Hargreaves and Virgin Money would love to break them up a bit.

There’ll also be new entries and shooting stars from downtable to consider – perhaps even a two-year wonder like Associated Co-operative Creameries which, almost from nowhere, won in 2001 and 2002. All of this our table compilers are pinpointing and rating.

Certainly the table, which will appear exclusively in The Journal on October 30, won’t be identical to that of last year!

Only accounts filed by the deadline of September 30 can be included in the awards.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer