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Top 100 businesses in Cambridgeshire for 2021 revealed

The top 100 companies in Cambridgeshire for 2021 by turnover have been revealed by Grant Thornton.

Its annual Cambridgeshire Ltd report, now in its eighth years, gives an insight into the performance of the county’s businesses.

This year, the report – which can be downloaded for free online - also explores profitability and growth.

Clockwise from top left, Cambridge Design Partnership, Frontier Developments, AstraZeneca and Raspberry Pi Foundation make the top 100 businesses list of 2021
Clockwise from top left, Cambridge Design Partnership, Frontier Developments, AstraZeneca and Raspberry Pi Foundation make the top 100 businesses list of 2021

Another new feature this time around is a spotlight on the international contribution to the local economy, with a list of the 20 Cambridgeshire-based subsidiaries of internationally-owned companies.

The top 100 list is headed up, inevitably, by AstraZeneca, which is headquartered in Cambridge and has opened its new R&D centre – the DISC – on Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The global biopharmaceutical company’s £19.5bn turnover is so large that Grant Thornton has again excluded it from its analysis because it would have a disproportionate impact.

Huntingdon-based food packaging company Hilton Food Group is second on the list, followed by Marshall of Cambridge.

James Brown, partner and practice leader at Grant Thornton in the East of England, said: “The main trend emerging from Grant Thornton’s Cambridgeshire Limited 2021 report into the county’s top 100 businesses is a slight dip in profits. While, on average, revenues have grown, with turnover increasing by nine per cent to £12.6billion, we have recorded a five per cent drop in EBITDA. These results must be seen in the context of a period of unprecedented challenges and hurdles, which means the county’s performance should still be viewed as a positive outcome overall.

“This trend of profits being marginally down is in line with other research we’ve conducted into the attitudes and perceptions of business leaders in the wider region. After a peak in optimism for short-term profit growth in the summer, business leaders across the East of England became more pessimistic during the second half of the year. This is likely due to a combination of falling revenue growth expectations, increased costs and the potential for further regulatory demands following COP26. Other key indicators from the report show encouraging signs and indicate that the region’s economy is heading in the right direction despite these difficulties. For example, the employment rate increased by 4.3 per cent.”

There are 21 new entrants in the top 100. Among them is Cambridge Independent publisher Iliffe Media – established when the paper was launched in 2016 – which makes the list following growth and acquisitions.

Cambridge Design Partnership is another new entrant at 51 and it also makes the top 20 most profitable businesses list at number seven.

That list, however, is headed by BGL (Holdings), the Peterborough-headquartered digital distributor of insurance and household financial services.

“The technology, biotech and pharmaceutical industries have all performed very well over the past year, with Cambridgeshire’s many well-established firms being no exception,” said James. “Interestingly, a key aspect which stood out this year as a value driver across many sectors was having a strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy – 71 per cent of the business leaders we surveyed in the East of England agreed that this contributes to the business’ value. However, there is more work to be done – despite ESG factors being widely recognised as important to growth, many (38 per cent) of the region’s businesses have yet to put a strategy in place to address them.”

Geographically, Cambridge has maintained a “robust business landscape” in 2021, he said, due in large part to its strong tech and pharmaceutical sectors.

“The strength of the city’s economy is illustrated by the fact that almost half (43) of the top 100 performing businesses in the county are based here. Other strong performers include Peterborough and Huntingdon, which combined account for 37 of the top 100 businesses in the report,” added James, who suggested the county’s economy was in a “strong state” going into 2022.

“Despite this positive overview, there are still some significant challenges that need to be accounted for, with supply chain disruption, talent shortages, increasing energy prices and inflationary pressures all posing potential obstacles to future growth,” he said. “Despite these concerns, we can see that Cambridgeshire’s strength in key sectors combined with the ability of its business leaders to remain agile and to grow turnover and staff numbers means that we can expect the positive trends to continue into the new year.”

Sophie Costello, founder and CEO of Costello Medical, which made the profitability and growth lists, said: “We are delighted with the ongoing growth of Costello Medical, and particularly proud that this still happens organically, driven by our reputation leading to an expanding client base.

“We love nothing more than welcoming talented people to the company and helping them build their careers with us.

Sophie Costello, of Costello Medical
Sophie Costello, of Costello Medical

“The growth we have seen also allowed us to formally establish our ‘Pro-Bono’ division in 2021, and this year we have spent close to 1,000 days of time, free of charge, on work for charities.”

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