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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.

Stephen Hamlton, partner at Mills & Reeve, and Hazel Platt, partner at Grant Thornton, with the Cambridgeshire Ltd 2019 report (23181051)
Stephen Hamlton, partner at Mills & Reeve, and Hazel Platt, partner at Grant Thornton, with the Cambridgeshire Ltd 2019 report (23181051)

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.

Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049735)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049735)

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.

Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049729)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049729)

“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.

Report author Paul Brown
Report author Paul Brown

“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.

Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049725)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049725)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049727)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049727)

“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 numbersemployed 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)

1 AstraZeneca PLC

2 Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings) Limited

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

21 Frontier Developments 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

33 Darktrace Limited

34 Horizon Discovery Group plc

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

46 Red Gate Software Group Limited

47 Creightons plc

48 Adcock Refrigeration And Air Conditioning Limited

49 Mundipharma International Limited

50 Cambridge Commodities Limited

51 Premier Holidays Limited

52 The Excell Group 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

78 Telensa 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

Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049731)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049731)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049733)
Data from the 2019 Cambridgeshire Ltd report from Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve (24049733)

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.

Read more

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