Cambridgeshire’s top 100 businesses in 2019 revealed: Study shows they continue to grow but there’s a note of caution
This year’s Cambridgeshire Limited report reveals continued growth in turnover and profits at the county’s 100 largest companies, but also indicates a degree of caution from business leaders.
Brexit and the uncertain political and economic climate appear to have had an impact on the level of borrowing and the amount of cash retained on balance sheets, according to the report.
Compiled annually by Cambridge-based financial and business advisors Grant Thornton in partnership with law firm Mills & Reeve, the report is based on publicly available accounts from October 2019 of Cambridgeshire’s largest 100 privately-owned companies by turnover.
To be eligible, companies must have their principal place of business and management in the county, meaning Ridgeons - now owned by Welsh firm Huws Gray - has dropped out the list this year.
AstraZeneca, as a global business with a £22bn turnover, retains its place at the top of the list but is excluded from the analysis because of the distorting effect it would have.
The study finds that that turnover at the top 100 is up six per cent from £10.7bn to £11.3bn and earnings (EBITDA) rose 10 per cent from £737m to £809m. There were similar increases last year, and with earnings growing faster than revenue, there is evidence of sound and sustainable business models.
Some 71 per cent of companies in the index grew their turnover and 90 per cent of them were profitable in the year.
It is a notable performance in a year of significant uncertainty.
Grant Thornton’s Paul Brown, one of the authors, tells the Cambridge Independent: “Business leaders here have built really strong foundations, so they are able to act in a positive manner when there is uncertainty.
“That robustness in business models is proven through the level of growth that has still been achieved, despite all the turmoil of the last 12 months or so.”
But there are clear signs of business leaders responding to this uncertainty.
Hazel Platt, head of tax for Grant Thornton’s Central region, explains: “There is an underlying narrative of caution behind the top 100 businesses’ performance – total borrowing is down one per cent this year and cash has increased 5.7 per cent to £915m.
“Profits are also being retained, which we can see through an increase in shareholder funds of 12 per cent to £2.6bn. So there is no need for despondency because overall, Cambridgeshire Limited has a strengthening balance sheet.
“This shows businesses in the county are well positioned for any further uncertainty in 2020 and this is reflective of the positive conversations I am having with my clients across the county.”
Companies have continued to add to their headcount in most parts of the county, however. Two-third of the top 100 have taken on more people and the overall number of employees has increased by 6.3 per cent.
Leading the way here is fast-growing Cambridge cybersecurity company Darktrace, which is 33rd in the top 100 and is now employing 65 per cent more people than last year.
Overall, however, the 19 Cambridge companies in the list report a flat headcount, perhaps reflecting some of the space constraints felt in the city.
By contrast, Peterborough’s 26 representatives in the top 100 have grown the number of employees by 16 per cent.
“Business leaders say that growth might be stronger if they could attract more people with the right skill-set. So it’s still a limiting factor for some of the strongest performers,” says Paul. “It’s also about attracting people into the area because of the well-publicised constraints on facilities, housing and affordability.”
Average pay has grown 4.5 per cent and the technology sector - strongest in Cambridge - reporting the highest average pay.
Earnings at technology companies have actually fallen 6.7 per cent, however.
“Some of the surprise come in the sector analysis,” says Paul. “When you look at what is growing and performing really strongly, some of our strongest performing businesses in the county are in sectors that you would say from a national picture would be struggling.
“Retail and wholesale, for instance, has seen significant growth in terms of turnover and profit and that’s been delivered by a number of companies. They know their market and deliver it really well. Clearly the High Street has a number of challenges, but these businesses are very much looking at specific targeted audiences.”
The biggest sector remains automotive, with £3billion turnover, while the highest numbers employed in food and beverage businesses - some 11,151.
Geographically, Cambridge leads the way in terms of total turnover, with five of the top 10 companies in the city. Earnings growth in the city was strong, at 16 per cent.
Frontier Developments, the Cambridge Science Park-based games company, was the only company in the list to more than double its turnover, with 162 per cent growth.. Now 21st in the list, the company was fuelled by the success of its most successful game launch to date - Jurassic Park Evolution.
In South Cambridgeshire, turnover and headcounts were up, but earnings dropped 18 per cent overall at the 22 representatives in the city.
Arguably the most notable performance came in Peterborough, where there was double digit growth in turnover, profits and people. It also recorded the highest number of new entrants into the top 100, including EPD Insulation Group Ltd at 65 and insurance company Marmalade Limited at 95. Overall, there were 10 new entrants in the list.
For the coming year, Paul is keen to see how Brexit and the economic environment impacts on Cambridgeshire Ltd.
“We are looking to see if profits will be impacted. Will the uncertainty come through in terms of financial performance or further stalling of investment?
“We will also look at the level of corporate activity. Generally, the UK is still an attractive place for inward investment. It will be interesting to see if that continues, particularly if exchange rates continue to fluctuate.
“When you talk to businesses, exchange rates are the most common concern as it impacts on their buying or ability to sell.”
For now, Cambridgeshire Ltd can be pleased with its progress.
Stephen Hamilton, a corporate partner at Mills & Reeve, notes: “We should not let comparisons to past levels of stellar success taint what is another set of hugely positive results. The report shows that the Cambridgeshire economy continues to grow and flourish, setting an example to the rest of the UK and being a magnet for international investment and interest.”
Top 100 companies in Cambridgeshire Ltd 2019 (based on turnover)
3 Hilton Food Group plc
4 BGL (Holdings) Limited
5 G’s Group Holdings Limited
6 Vindis Group Limited
7 Napp Pharmaceutical Holdings Limited
8 Pro Cam Europe Limited
9 Mundibiopharma Limited
10 Abcam plc
11 Hutchinson Group Limited
12 George Thurlow And Sons (Holdings) Limited
13 Produce Investments Limited
14 Mick George Limited
15 Camelot Topco Limited
16 Russell Burgess Limited
17 Mundipharma Research Limited
18 AK Retail Holdings Limited
19 Avingtrans plc
20 Quixant plc
22 Shamrock Topco Limited
23 Hexagon Investment Holdings Limited
24 Lawrence David Limited
25 Welding Institute (The)
26 Amino Technologies plc
27 J B Shropshire & Sons Limited
28 Anglia Components Limited
29 F P Smith (Holdings) Limited
30 Princebuild Holdings Limited
31 Xaar plc
32 Brookgate Limited
35 Friar’s Pride Limited
36 BWP (Cambridge) Limited
37 Roe Bros & Co Ltd
38 Baker Perkins Holdings Limited
39 Comtec Group (International) Limited
40 Bidwells LLP
41 Chivgate Limited
42 Science Group plc
43 G & J Peck Limited
44 Kershaw Group Limited
45 Fenmarc Holdings Limited
47 Creightons plc
48 Adcock Refrigeration And Air Conditioning Limited
49 Mundipharma International Limited
50 Cambridge Commodities Limited
53 Systemsaccountants Holdings Limited
54 Frederic Smart & Son Limited
55 Checkit plc
56 Alan Bartlett & Sons (Chatteris) Limited
57 Murkett Brothers (Holdings) Limited
58 Hales Group Limited
59 Knowles (Transport) Limited
60 Raspberry Pi
61 Buffaload Logistics Limited
62 Business Control Solutions Group Limited
63 Cashflows Europe Limited
64 Car World (Cambs) Ltd
65 EPD Insulation Group Ltd
66 Secure Group Limited
67 Green Energy Options Ltd
68 Toy Brokers Holdings Limited
69 Blancco Technology Group plc
70 International Direct Packaging Limited
71 RGE Engineering Limited
72 Quartix Holdings plc
73 Miers Construction Products Limited
74 Igo4 Limited
75 Rapidrop Global Limited
76 Fountain Foods Limited
77 Nason Davis Holdings Limited
79 G S Shropshire Holdings Limited
80 Flo-Mech Holdings Limited
81 Secure Home Purchase (2015) Limited
82 Chiltern Cold Storage Group Limited
83 Masteroast Holdings Limited
84 E - Leather Limited
85 Escape Fitness Limited
86 Abzena Limited
87 M J S Holdings (March) Limited
88 ASL Technology Holdings Ltd
89 Ellgia Limited
90 Scotsdale Nursery and Garden Centre Ltd
91 Cambridge Office Environments Ltd
92 PC Howard Ltd
93 Global Graphics plc
94 Coulson Group Limited
95 Marmalade Ltd
96 Firstan Holdings Limited
97 Wilcox Holdings Limited
98 EACS Limited
99 Tradelink Direct Limited
100 Clarksteel Holdings Limited
Ones to watch
The Cambridgeshire Ltd report highlights a number of companies that are looking to force their way into the top 100 list.
Composite component manufacturer TRB Lightweight Structures Limited in Huntingdon, fruit wholesaler Fruit Growers Alianza in Chatteris; transport specialist Manchetts Holdings Limited,, based in Burwell, and housebuilder David Smith St Ives Limited are four expected to make the cut in the coming years.