Lancashire Business View’s annual survey of the health of the county’s SMEs has revealed continued confidence within the sector – despite Brexit and global and domestic political uncertainty.
The independent business magazine’s much anticipated Hot 100 list of the county’s most profitable SMEs was revealed before an invited audience at a special breakfast at Barton Grange, near Preston.
And Leyland-headquartered Hurt Plant Hire was named number one in this year’s list with turnover of £21.87m and pre-tax profit of £7.32m.
The Hot 100 audience gathered to celebrate the achievements of the county’s top SMEs heard Clive Hurt explain how he started his plant hire business 46 years ago with a “very second-hand” bulldozer he bought for £840.
This year the total combined turnover of the Hot 100 companies was an impressive £1,672,861,316 – compared to £1,651,160,208 in 2017.
Total pre-tax profit of these businesses has also moved in the right direction – from £172,536,502 in 2017 to £188,311,938.
The only downward trend is in jobs – a small drop from 10,209 last year to 9,820.
Since 2014 the total number of jobs generated by companies on Lancashire Business view’s Hot 100 list has risen by 867 – however compared with 2016, the peak year for employee numbers, the figure has fallen by 587.
This year there are 37 new entries to the list. Construction leads the way with 26 businesses on the list, generating a combined turnover of £393,549,118 alongside the 2,554 jobs they sustain.
Since 2014 the Hot 100 has seen total sales increase by £283m, and total profit before tax rise by £53m.
This year’s list also reveals that the export front looks healthy for many of Lancashire’s SMEs – which is good news as businesses look for new markets to exploit in the post-Brexit era.
The research shows that of the companies in the Hot 100 that have disclosed their exports the total turnover from overseas sales is £228,752,258. This equates to 14 per cent of total sales.
And that actual figure is in reality larger, with a number of businesses not disclosing their export activity in their accounts.
The issue of women in key positions looks to remain a challenge. Lancashire Business View’s research reveals that of the 341 directors represented in the list, just 53 are women.
The Hot 100 list is compiled with Lancashire-based chartered accountants Haworths. This year’s list was sponsored by Edge Hill University and HSBC. The launch breakfast was sponsored by Boost, Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub.
Lancashire Business View publisher Richard Slater said: “Once again the Hot 100 puts the focus firmly on the many success stories we have here in the county and underlines the resilience and determination of our vitally important SMEs.
“These are the businesses that drive Lancashire’s economy, delivering jobs and opportunities to their communities. They are the backbone of the county.”
Mark Schofield, director at Haworths Chartered Accountants, said continuing confidence within Lancashire was principally being driven by engineering centred on aerospace.
He added: “All in all I feel we continue to be in a good place; probably the best in my working life.”
Prof Simon Bolton, associate dean for enterprise and employability at Edge Hill University, added: “The Northern Powerhouse needs to deliver on its promises if SMEs are going to achieve economic growth.
“Continuing development of the region’s infrastructure and tackling transport issues is pinnacle to attracting quality skills and talent to the region.”
And Chris Mackenzie, HSBC deputy head of corporate banking in Lancashire and Cumbria, said: “The final figures for 2017 aren’t yet in, but anecdotal reports suggest that it was a good year for Lancashire’s manufacturers and exporters, who were able to take advantage of sterling’s depreciation and the strengthening of demand in major overseas markets.”