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New report on Essex’s top 100 leading companies reveals Brexit hasn’t hampered growth yet

PUBLISHED: 11:11 19 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:43 20 November 2018

Colchester High Street in Essex. Picture: Jessica Hill

Colchester High Street in Essex. Picture: Jessica Hill

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‘There is a tendency to talk Essex down - London looks down on our ability to prosper. But we should be hugely proud of our county.’ That’s the message from Adam Jones, a partner at Birketts law firm and one of the masterminds behind a new report showing profits at Essex’s top 100 firms have shot up by 14.3% in the last year.

Left to right: Adam Jones and Rafael Ruiz, partners at Birketts LLP, with Trevor Ling and Graham Mummery of Grant Thornton’s Chelmsford office. Credit Grant Thornton.Left to right: Adam Jones and Rafael Ruiz, partners at Birketts LLP, with Trevor Ling and Graham Mummery of Grant Thornton’s Chelmsford office. Credit Grant Thornton.

Ahead of tomorrow’s official release of Essex Limited, a report compiled by financial and business advisors Grant Thornton on the performance of Essex’s largest companies, the East Anglian Daily Times spoke to Mr Jones and Trevor Ling, a Grant Thornton director based in Chelmsford, who have been poring over what these results reveal about the state of the Essex economy.

This report, which is the first of the annual Essex Limited reports to take into account the impact of the Brexit referendum because of the accounting period it covers, reveals that the turnover of these companies has increased by 10%, to £9.1bn in 12 months.

There has also been an increase in the threshold for inclusion to the top 100 of 11.3%, from £37.1m to £41.3m, which further highlights the county’s encouraging economic growth.

“The numbers are showing continued growth across all sectors,” said Mr Ling. “Considering all the talk about the economic impact of Brexit, this growth was pretty surprising – we have not seen any impact from Brexit.”

Trevor Ling of Grant Thornton. Picture: Grant ThorntonTrevor Ling of Grant Thornton. Picture: Grant Thornton

But Mr Jones also noted that a lot of Essex’s top companies are now looking at acquiring a foothold in Europe, “so they have that presence there after Brexit”.

Mr Ling concedes there have been some challenges in the county’s retail sector, which are evident in the number of empty shop windows in town centres such as Colchester and Southend.

“In retail, it’s a mixed picture – people are increasingly shopping online,” he said. “There are also real challenges with high street casual dining. We don’t have a lot of big name retail businesses based in Essex – very often, Essex has retail franchisees. We have three or four really big wholesalers.”

One of the most successful companies in north Essex is Flying Trade Group, a predominantly food and leisure business based in Harwich which has moved up the top 100 chart from 18th to 14th place. “They are trading in the right areas of retail,” said Mr Ling.

And it is not just the big companies that are faring well in the county. More than 900 businesses across Essex have a turnover of more than £5m – “lots more than in neighbouring counties,” said Mr Ling. “In Essex, companies need a £41.3m turnover just to get into the top 100. In Cambridge it’s around £20m.

“People in Essex are much more successful at entrepreneurial level. But Cambridge has a more vibrant start-up market based around technology and pharmaceuticals.”

Mr Jones agrees that the start up market is “less mature” in Essex.

He said big opportunities could be on the horizon for Essex thanks to DP World’s London Gateway Port, which is predicted to rival Felixstowe in the future as one of the UK’s biggest container ports, and Stansted Airport, which has just been given consent to increase its capacity to 43 million passengers a year.

“One of the challenges is how geographically diverse Essex is,” he said. “The list of 100 companies shows a split right across from Colchester to Maldon and Chelmsford to Harlow. We have a real geographic spread of diverse companies, which makes our county more resilient to economic headwinds.”

When it comes to gender diversity in the boardrooms, things are not looking so rosy for the county’s leading companies.

“There are significant opportunities to expand female board directors – it is not a great story for the county, and it is important to address this issue,” Mr Jones admitted.

See the chart of Essex’s Top 100 companies and our infographic showing the sector breakdown here.

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