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w w w . l d p b u s i n e s s . c o . u k January 2011

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Revealed: Just who are the region’s biggest companies?

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Nurock exporting to Russia


Top 200 North West companies

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Carolyn Hughes out on the town

AS WINTER does its worst, we at LDP Business can offer some festive cheer in the form of our Top 200 table of the North West’s largest businesses. The table, compiled for LDP Business by the University of Liverpool School of Management, shows that the majority of the biggest firms in our region continued to grow, despite the recent recession. That might come as a surprise to some, but if you stop to examine the table, you will see that many of the businesses in our patch are, in fact, recession-proof. Discount store chains, for example (of which we have more than our fair share in this region), have been beneficiaries of


EDITOR Bill Gleeson 0151 472 2319




EDITOR’S LETTER thrifty shoppers seeking to eke out their household budgets. Another feature of the region’s economy is its diversity. In London and the South East, there is a huge reliance on financial services, an economic sector that suffered badly from the credit crunch. But, up here in the North West, we seem to have many firms that have shown considerable resilience.

Obviously there have been some casualties along the way. Look at the figures for Bentley and you will see that the rich have not been spending lavishly on up-market cars. Look at European Metal Recycling (EMR) and it is apparent that they are taking longer to shift their mountains of scrap metal, such as the one by Langton Dock that deters some American cruise ships from calling in at Liverpool. EMR are a victim of falling metal prices around the world. The analysis also indicates that there

is good reason to be optimistic about the region’s ability to take advantage of growth in 2011. It suggests that the private sector throughout the wider region does have the capacity to play its part in picking up the slack in the employment market arising from public sector cuts as they start to take effect in the months ahead. That, of course, is particularly crucial to Merseyside, or the Liverpool city region if you prefer, where 16,000 people are predicted to lose their jobs

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in the next four years. Certainly our councils and some locally based big national government offices have set about cutting staff numbers with some vigour. It will be interesting to see how well skill-sets, and particularly cultures, transfer between the public and private sectors. While I admire the work of many who do real jobs in the public sector – doctors and nurses, for example – there are others in quango-world and local government who may be in for a rude awakening. Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.



Sports retailer opens second outlet in Wirral

The team at Runners Sports, in Hoylake

RUNNERS Sports, a Wirral retailer established in 1993, has announced expansion plans to open a second store, creating jobs for the area. Currently based in New Ferry, Runners Sports offers a bespoke service supplying running shoes and accessories to runners of all abilities and is the premium regional stockist for Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance, Saucony, Innov8 and Ron Hill. It has built a strong customer base over the past 17 years and this

expansion, with the opening of a new store in Hoylake, will extend its services to West Wirral. Julie Ebbrell, who owns and manages Runners Sports, said: “I am delighted to be opening the Hoylake store. We have lots of loyal customers from across Wirral and the North West, so adding a second store will give them a choice of location. We will also be able to increase the range of stock we offer in both shops.” The store is located in Birkenhead Road.

Nurock now mixing it with best in Siberia NOWSLEY cement mixer maker Nurock has completed its first export to Russia, aiding the construction of the first shopping and entertainment complex in the Siberian city of Uchta. With temperatures often plummeting below zero, Nurock, a designer and manufacturer of specialist mixers, was able to meet tough performance criteria, working with local distributors Beton Technologies of Russia and UAB Betono Zona, of Lithuania. Nurock’s mixers are effectively mobile batching plants, carrying all the unmixed ingredients in separate compartments before mixing the exact quantity on site, meeting cost and environmental targets through the reduction of waste and reducing pollutants both in transportation and production. The concrete mix can be changed on-site for any requirement and the mixer includes a touch screen system that stores up to 50 pre-set concrete designs. It also slashed production costs from £208 per cubic metre to £42 per cubic metre. As part of the Uchta project, cement was brought in by train and loaded directly into the Nurock mixer. In a series of tests it produced concrete of a quality that met, and exceeded, requirements in a climate that is so cold that construction is only possible during three months of each year. Along with its partners, Nurock is working with a number of companies and is planning to deliver more mixers this year, with interest being shown in a number of product versions, including its new “baby” compact mixer.

Northern firms proving resilient



Previous recessions have already taken a dramatic toll on the North – Matt Dunham, North West regional chair of R3

Nurock’s first Russian export cement mixer, on site in Siberia

BUSINESSES in the North of England are bearing up significantly better than their counterparts in other areas of the country, according to research from the insolvency trade body R3. According to R3’s latest Business Distress Index, 41% of businesses in the North are currently experiencing decreased profits, the most common sign of distress. However, this compares to 50% in the South and 58% in the Midlands. In total, 68% of northern businesses are showing one or more signs of distress, compared to 74% in the South and 81% in the Midlands. Northern businesses also have fewer debt worries. Only 9% said they were concerned about

debt levels, less than half the proportion in the South (19%) and a third of that in the Midlands (28%). The Business Distress Index is designed to rank early warning signs of distress to businesses and is accompanied by practical advice on how to avoid company insolvency. Matt Dunham, North West regional chair of R3 and a partner at Grant Thornton, said: “It could be argued that the difference is down to northern grit and resilience, but it’s more likely to be due to the fact that previous recessions have already taken such a dramatic toll on the North. “These signs of distress on their own do not automatically suggest insolvency is imminent, but they should be observed over the longer term.”


A facelift for local shops

Run-down shopping areas given a refresh, thanks to assistance from Stepclever STEPCLEVER is an initiative to generate an enterprise culture in North Liverpool and South Sefton, by offering free business advice and support, as well as grants and other financial assistance for existing enterprises, start-up companies and individuals. Here we look at an exciting project run by Stepclever. STEPCLEVER is judging shopping areas on their appearance. A dedicated team of business neighbourhood officers realise how important it is for streets to look their best, particularly if there are shops and other businesses operating in that area. Graffiti, unsightly weeds and smashed windows will not entice any shopper to spend their money, so action must be taken – and this is where business neighbourhoods come in. The team have spent time visiting shopping areas in the Stepclever wards of Linacre and Derby, meeting with retailers and finding out their impressions of

the area and what changes they would like made to attract shoppers. Already the project has had a hugely positive impact on Linacre Road. This is an area with many vacant premises which are a target for anti-social behaviour. Following an inspection, broken windows have been boarded up, unsightly foliage removed from the walls and roofs, while shop front and shutters were painted to give the buildings a clean, fresh appearance. Not only does this make the empty shops look much more attractive, but businesses in the area also benefit from the area looking cleaner. One business owner who noticed a huge difference is Barry Roberts, who owns Signworks, which is next to the row of improved premises. He said: “The derelict shops were a real eyesore and made the whole street look untidy. “Now it’s a million times better and myself and other owners on the road are grateful

to the Stepclever team who have made the area a much nicer place for shoppers to visit.” All businesses visited are also given vital crime prevention advice and support, which includes letting managers know about the availability of limited grants companies can be awarded to introduce security measures. This is important for those who are repeat victims of crime – Stepclever wants to do everything it can to help people protect themselves in the future. And the help doesn’t end there. They also give advice on waste management, graffiti, litter and fly-tipping. ■ IF YOU own a shop in the Stepclever area, why not make the most of this fantastic free advice. If you live in Sefton, contact the team on 0151 934 4665 or email sally.rylands@sefton. If you live in north Liverpool, contact the Neighbourhoods Team on 0151 233 3147 or visit for more information.

Stepclever is improving shopping areas, as the above before, top, and after, bottom, photos on Linacre Lane, Bootle, show

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NEWS The panel debated issues around employment and job creation

Creating jobs and workers The Reed in Partnership debate finds getting people back in work will remain a challenge

THE early part of 2011 is expected to prove difficult for employers and jobseekers alike. LDP Business brought together a panel of employment experts for a debate, sponsored by Reed in Partnership, about the region’s prospects. While there was agreement about the city’s resilience so far during the recession, there was nervousness about what the new year might bring. Martin Fallon, Reed in Partnership’s operations director, said: “We published a report in 2009 looking at the resilience of the Liverpool economy, while many people were negative about the city’s chances. “We have published a new report looking at how Liverpool has fared. Liverpool has fared better than the North West as a whole, and unemployment has not risen anywhere near as much as predicted. “From our work, we are concerned in the rise of people in underemployment – not being able to secure full-time work – and the number of people selfemployed. “Liverpool’s 6.1% lags behind


the North West at 7.8% on self-employment. An extra 4,900 people would need to be supported to start up on their own to bring it up to the North West average, and 8,300 to bring it up to the UK average.” Tony Caldeira, chairman of City of Liverpool Conservatives and owner of manufacturing and retail group Caldeira, expects the increase in VAT and rising inflation to have an impact. He said: “The VAT increase will hurt in the short term. We are going to get inflation in the form of higher prices coming through from China. It’s not going to be very easy. “In the early stages of 2011, it’s going to be tough. “People who have to retrain and reskill. We are going to have a tough first quarter in 2011, but it’s not as bad as the media make out.” The Labour MP for Wirral South, Alison McGovern, expressed her concern about what is happening across the Irish Sea. “The evidence from Ireland is that the hard and fast approach doesn’t work,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of

discomfort and we have to ask questions of Government and what we can do as a community – how we can assist people through that.” Kim Griffiths-Parry, head of employment programmes at Liverpool City Council, stressed that easing the unemployment situation was not as simple as companies creating job opportunities. “Our organisations are about making people be work ready first,” she said. “We gathered people together who were interested and we prepared them to go for the job so they didn’t have the experience of being refused. “That’s one of the most important roles that public sector funding has provided for people. “Where people have had great difficulty and in the areas where there has been a great deal of worklessness, in some areas we can target that. “It’s not just matching the best people for the job, it’s about creating the people to be ready for the job.” ■ WATCH the debate online at

The filmed debate can be watched online at

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A resilient region


▲ ▲

How did the North West’s largest businesses fare during the recent recession – and how can they take advantage of what will undoubtedly be an improving economy in the New Year?


THE BIG FEATURE . . . TOP 200 CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9 DP BUSINESS and the University of Liverpool Management School have joined forces to compile an analysis of the largest 200 businesses in the North West. What our ranking shows is that, while some firms have been adversely affected by the recession, with some showing a marked fall in sales and profits, many others have continued to expand. An example of a firm that has been hit by the recession is scrap metal dealer European Metal Recycling. EMR had, over the previous decade, enjoyed strong growth in turnover and profits on the back of rising demand for scrap metal resulting from worldwide economic growth. When the recession came along, however, it would appear business declined sharply, with sales falling from £3bn to £1.8bn. Despite the steep decline, there appears to be profit margin left in their business as EMR reported pre-tax profit of £91m. In contrast to EMR, Shop Direct, the Speke-based online and catalogue retailer, enjoyed significant sales growth during the downturn. While its high street competitors have struggled during the past two years of lean consumer spending, Shop Direct has gone from strength to strength. Its transition from an old-fashioned catalogue shopping business into a modern-day internet retailer has been more rapid than even the group itself predicted. The re-invention of the once seemingly doomed group, which used to be known as Littlewoods, appears to be working. However, Shop Direct’s top-line growth has yet to be reflected in its pre-tax figure, suggesting market share has been bought at the expense of low margins. Certainly Shop Direct has trounced regional rival N Brown for sales growth. Other retailers that have done well during tough times have been those specialising in the discount end of the market, of which there are plenty of examples in our region. B&M Retail, which recently relocated its head office from Blackpool to Speke, in Liverpool, has seen sales rise from £256m to £427m, fuelled by a nationwide store opening programme. Other discount retailers doing well include Gillmoss-based TJ Morris, where sales have risen from £383m to £482m, TJ Hughes, up from £240m to £261m, and Matalan, up from £1bn to £1.1bn.


However, when it comes to profitability, most of our discounters are showing thin returns. One notable exception is TJ Morris, which for many years has consistently turned in margins in the regions of 10%. The table reflects the region’s long-standing strength in the chemicals sector, with 11 of our Top 200 companies in that sector. That’s because many chemical companies still have their headquarters in the North West, or at least the region is home to a sufficiently discreet business unit. In contrast, the hefty weight of the region’s aerospace sector is not reflected in the table. This anomaly arises because the biggest aerospace firms have their head offices elsewhere. BAE Systems, which has four major plants in the North West, is headquartered in Trafalgar Square. Airbus, with its huge wing manufacturing plant at Broughton, has its decision-making board located in Toulouse, in the west of France. The table was compiled by MBA students at the University of Liverpool Management School. Its production was overseen by the school’s director, Professor Murray Dalziel. Commenting on the table, Prof Dalziel said: “This listing should counter any doubts about our business vitality. “If you want to be competitive with other regions, note that our 200th company would have been among the top 50 in the North-East (from a recent survey conducted by Durham Business School). “It's impressive that, in a recession, nearly 60% of our top companies are still growing and 30% grew by over 10%. Growth rates cut across all sectors. “We are particularly good at finding the niche areas that deftly cut around large players. Examples would be Shop Direct, TJ Morris and Iceland, Tote Betting and Done Brothers offering alternatives to large national brands. “Consumer-related businesses dominate, but 42% of the Top 200 companies are in industrial, energy or materials. A challenge for the Government's new policy on economic development is to note that 66% of these firms are not in Liverpool or Manchester. “When you consider that we excluded a number of large multinationals operating large employee bases here (for example, Unilever and Astra Zeneca), as well as a large number of financial service firms (because it's difficult to compare based on turnover), you see a very dynamic business environment.”

This listing should counter any doubts about our business vitality – Professor Murray Dalziel, director of the University of Liverpool Management School

HOW THE TOP 200 WAS COMPILED THE Northwest Top 200 was compiled by MBA students and staff at the University of Liverpool Management School. Each year, the students form a “consulting firm” supervised by academic staff as part of their studies. Compiling this table was this year’s consulting project. Businesses are ranked by turnover, which is considered a better indication of growth than profit.

The rankings are based on the latest publicly announced turnover at the time the list was finalised. To qualify, companies must have their registered office, or board level decision-making management based in the region. This rule effectively excludes relatively small subsidiaries of large multinationals from being included in the ranking. The list is prepared by

first using publicly available information, published on FAME database as well as Companies House and Dun and Bradstreet. This was followed by a direct approach to each company to verify the figures. If you think your company should have been included, please get in touch by emailing so that you can be considered for future rankings.

Don’t bet against our winner

Salford-born bookie Fred Done – set up business in 1967


THE Done Brothers (Cash Betting) bookmakers business, which runs BetFred, heads the list with a turnover of £2.77bn and a profit of £203.5m, a 5.7% rise on 2008. This compares to a turnover of £550m seven years ago. The company was set up in 1967 by brothers Fred and Peter Done, in Ordsall, Salford, and it is now the world's largest independent bookmakers and the UK’s fourth biggest bookmakers. BetFred, founded in 1967, employs around 2,600 staff and has more than 830 shops nationwide. Now based at Birchwood, Warrington, the managing director is John Haddock, who started as the company’s regional

manager. It is currently moving telephone betting functions to Gibraltar under the name Petfre, the first three letters of each of Peter and Fred Done’s names. During the 2004/05 Premier League season, Fred Done lost £1m to fellow bookmaker Victor Chandler after staking that amount on Manchester United finishing higher up the league than Chelsea. Betfred’s sale of its Online Casino netted a profit of more than £27m. The company is a leading contender to buy the Governmentowned Tote, based in Wigan, which would create a chain of 1,350 shops all branded under the Betfred name.

THE BIG FEATURE . . . TOP 200 Rank

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Company name

Last accounting reference date

Last year's turnover (£m)

Previous year's turnover (£m)

Location of registered office

Number of Last year's Type of business employees profit/ (loss) before tax (£m)

2772 2539.1 2439.1 2297.63 2264.86 1927.96 1843.06 1749 1681.7 1500 1104.1 1089.14 1081 1030.38 991.63 957.68 899.53 788.18 771.6 769.79 740.57 690 683.98 672.03 669.25 666.74

1103.49 2606.4 2434.7 2196.2 2080.9 1128.2 3099.1 1775.9 1360 N/A 1020 1034.09 946.39 979.16 849.85 962.38 924.09 865.33 838.1 670.86 828.69 662.5 703.1 569.51 924.53 627.9

Warrington Knutsford Warrington Wigan Deeside Warrington Warrington Manchester Liverpool Ellesmere Port Skelmersdale Liverpool Liverpool Knutsford Crewe Runcorn Manchester Knutsford Manchester Bury Bury Manchester Manchester Manchester Manchester Manchester

2665 18054 9365 2053 21464 1630 2136 5487 9532 2122 16627 24 3154 1036 1271 1633 5885 3051 8312 6128 10506 3189 3462 148 912 352

8529 203500 474200 10901 110125 27.64 91.1 11.5 -114 N/A 103.2 21.8 39.09 66.59 0.2 19.2 -26.76 45.36 101.8 61.39 307.73 85.7 1.31 10.21 -87.59 9.73

Betting Civil engineering Water utility Betting Frozen food retailer Oil distribution Scrap metal recycling Motor retail group Retail Car manufacturing Retail Shipping, logistics and finance Food production Electrical wholesaler Telecommunications services Pharmaceutical wholesaler Wholesaler Electrical distributor Soap manufacturer Retail Mail delivery Retail Financial services Office equipment Textiles Food production

6528 988 2000

13.1 -48.63 N/A

Logistics Glass manufacturer Car manufacturing Retail Chemicals Cinemas Pharmacy retail Bakery Metal recycling Home and garden tools Discount retail Electrical equipment Tourism and leisure Car manufacturing Healthcare Uranium enrichment Engineering support services Thermal processing services Discount retail Mechanical engineering Heating oil Fuel wholesaler Paper manufacturer Fuel wholesaler Pets and pet supplies Sportswear manufacturer Construction Telecommunications services Agricultural foods and fuels Sports retail Chemicals Payroll services DIY retail Drinks retail Tool and equipment hire Air transport Plastics manufacturer Freight transport Car hire Utilities Freight transport Fertilizer manufacturer Construction products Green technology investor Soap and detergent manufacturer Pharmaceutical wholesaler Meat wholesaler

662 654.13 644

26.8 681.82 N/A

Manchester Ormskirk Liverpool

30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71


607.54 584.01 548.1 526.54 510.47 491.99 486.9 481.58 476.43 473.4 469.5 460.74 440.18 436.63 435.4 426.66 426.09 421.5 411.48 410.82 410.21 404.25 399.32 396.9 385.75 379.8 372.49 367.6 366.13 365.16 356.65 351.1 348.9 345.99 324.9 324.52 320.1 319.67 315.69 314.32 313.35 304.92

557.85 792.08 517.07 518.81 497.67 755.92 501.9 383.43 519.27 455.1 829.4 437.96 404.55 431.45 551.8 255.86 478.41 342.65 452.26 248.22 399.47 354.65 328.51 301.8 229.32 380.6 718.28 504.14 319.42 371.34 341.75 476.1 371.3 300.03 345.26 240.05 307.4 211.92 600.05 283.22 309.69 284.16

Manchester 3034 Runcorn 1037 Manchester 8837 Runcorn 4405 Bolton 4921 Warrington 902 Crewe 4334 Liverpool 4006 Warrington 2021 Northwich 3569 Crewe 3424 Wilmslow 20248 Chester 365 Salford 533 Macclesfield 6020 Liverpool 4831 Manchester 2325 Warrington Warrington 206 Liverpool 2545 Crewe 120 Handforth 2773 Stockport 1020 Ewloe 779 Crewe 616 Nantwich 902 Wigan 8243 Cheadle 362 Warrington 8012 Crewe 3250 Crewe 217 Newton-Le-Willows 4267 Manchester 2575 Urmston 216 Liverpool 6997 Chester Prenton 41 Warrington 2581 Chester 576 Holywell 956 Salford 979 Manchester 2211

62 -36.7 -55.58 11.29 62.78 -75.6 -21 42.62 12.7 5.4 -282.3 0.93 237.9 9.68 -54.5 33.85 -1.49 5.57 1.43 14.39 1.41 23.1 16.22 0.7 9.93 7.1 -68.59 8.94 3.36 -11.71 11.26 -22.8 45.6 -2.36 -21.12 24.14 97.1 4.45 38.93 21.27 4.88 4.31

72 73


302.45 295.99

289.88 268.01

Salford Manchester

3.61 0.37

27 28 29

31/03/09 30/09/09

717 32


THE BIG FEATURE . . . TOP 200 Company name

Last accounting reference date

Last year's turnover (£m)

Previous year's turnover (£m)

Location of registered office

Number of Last year's Type of business employees profit/ (loss) before tax (£m)

31/12/09 31/12/08 31/08/09 30/06/09 30/06/09 30/06/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 31/12/08 30/09/09 31/03/10 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/01/09 31/12/09 30/09/09 31/12/08 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/12/08 31/03/09 30/06/09

289.89 287.07 280.63 278.48 277.27 274.28 270.76 268.9 267 264.67 263.19 263.16 261.65 261.31 258.4 256.28 255.46 253.1 252.9 248.25 246.69 245.61

267.47 240.79 233.59 256.24 259.25 161.14 215.8 N/A 170.73 333.77 250.54 233.82 362.45 239.54 355.15 270.22 245.68 246.44 220.81 350.67 244.6 226.73

Chester Manchester Sale Manchester Stockport Warrington Northwich Eccles Liverpool Rochdale Birkenhead Manchester Wigan Liverpool Liverpool Macclesfield Altrincham Holmes Chapel Warrington Crewe Chester Liverpool

584 1003 281 591 620 180 1529 3685 474 655 278 4192 343 4079 244 8876 1825 1742 888 122 256 1193

34.12 42.3 3.57 127.65 2.29 -0.07 -9.33 -62.7 7.24 5.57 5.27 32.04 4.96 2.36 -28.56 -1.74 1.73 8.05 15.81 2.84 4.15 7.04

Packaging manufacturer Oil and gas services Recruitment Football club Drinks wholesaler Software consultants Chemical manufacturer Laboratory services Betting Car retail Christmas savings Insurance Civil engineering machinery Discount retail Shipping Catering Recruitment Construction Chemicals Food production Food production Drinks distributor

31/12/08 30/09/09

244.48 241.93

211.44 228.36

Wigan Newton Heath


-2 -3.52

Roofing Fire protection

98 99 100 101 102 103


31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/12/08

236.3 235.43 229.3 223.06 216.47 215.96

257.7 225.25 253.6 244.42 219.03 202.82

Salford Bolton Runcorn Bolton Manchester Deeside

1440 914 5744 492 917 1047

9.6 16.09 20.6 3.64 27.3 55.63

104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112


31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 30/09/09 31/03/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 31/12/08

215.61 214.64 209.56 207.81 207.7 199.92 193.7 193.65 188.47

218.66 78.43 230.27 230.43 215.35 N/A 199.06 178.05 170.66

Liverpool Warrington Knutsford Salford Macclesfield Warrington Bolton Ellesmere Port Stockport

754 106 45 655 7281 1427 293 381 4308

1.63 2.95 -0.04 5.2 2.18 0.45 4.7 -22.51 5.58

113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143


31/08/09 31/07/09 30/09/09 31/12/08 31/12/09 31/03/09 31/03/10 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/12/09 31/03/10 30/06/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 28/02/10 30/04/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 31/03/10 30/06/09 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/03/10 31/12/09 30/04/09 31/10/09 30/06/09 31/12/08

187.49 184.78 183.62 181.95 180.44 177.43 176.7 174.73 172.61 172.16 169.6 169.26 168.71 168.27 168.19 167.18 165.48 164.41 162.96 162.66 162.66 159.72 159.69 158.02 156.2 156.1 154.09 151.42 150.07 149.49 148.69

214.03 161.79 206.56 163.11 183.71 188.23 174 83.68 152.14 153.18 154.2 158.74 177.01 100.64 206.07 119.79 171.38 312.71 113.66 155.44 155.44 154.84 163.14 138.68 162.99 194.7 213.57 156.98 150.11 165.98 164.51

Liverpool Liverpool Runcorn St Helens Wigan Deeside Ashton Under Lyne Liverpool Ewloe Crewe Wilmslow Manchester Cheadle Manchester Manchester Manchester Liverpool Birkenhead Liverpool Bolton Bolton Crewe Warrington Trafford Altrincham Manchester Bury Manchester Liverpool Manchester Stockport

589 474 5012 601 2808 231 1260 106

2965 542 290 902

6.41 -54.86 3.03 41.8 0.92 -0.05 -5.2 81.35 43.75 1.53 -10 33 -110.77 8.33 7.08 2.24 1.3 0.11 15.34 7.06 2.57 2.37 2.04 13.44 -1.36 -13.6 6.24 N/A 5.35 69.09 -2.27









Metal production Paper manufacturer Dry cleaning Car retail Oil and gas services Medical equipment manufacturer Food production Wind technology Recruitment Car retail Catering Recruitment Retail Chemical manufacturer Facilities management services Agricultural and food products Football club Air transport Insulation manufacturer Travel HR consultants Adhesive tapes Storage and warehousing Price comparison website Car retail Tiles Commercial flooring Engineering and construction Electrical manufacturer Advertising Telecommunications Food production Cotton trader Edible oils Kitchens and bathrooms Kitchens and bathrooms Petrochemical distribution Computer retail Investment firm Paint products Engineering Structural engineering Law Electricity Financial services Electronic components manufacturer Retail


74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97


389 1593 777 226 216 200 174 70 1271 129 744 744 27 158 1222 2156

THE BIG FEATURE . . . TOP 200 Rank

145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200

Number of Last year's Type of business employees profit/ (loss) before tax (£m)

Company name

Last accounting reference date

Last year's turnover (£m)

Previous year's turnover (£m)

Location of registered office


31/12/09 31/12/09 30/06/09 31/12/06

147.76 146.05 144.86 144.35

81.02 229.11 71.66 24.66

Bury Liverpool Salford Nantwich

115 266 195

7.84 2.85 2.62 10.03

Car care products Scrap metal recycling Construction Food production

30/04/09 30/09/09 30/09/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 31/12/09 30/06/09 31/12/09

142.55 141.84 141.65 141.5 140.34 139.29 138.55 138.15

N/A 78.62 183.16 109.61 187.6 243.15 170.22 142.74

Winsford Rochdale Warrington Heywood Liverpool Altrincham Deeside Rochdale

670 71 1364 1261 271 263 710 242

-0.77 6.46 1.04 3.45 4.15 -1.81 -10.12 -0.46

Plastics manufacturer Car retail Construction Fruit and vegetable wholesaler Metal manufacturing Office furnishings Travel Pharmaceutical wholesaler

31/12/09 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/03/09

137.55 137.5 135.65 133.74

134.23 130.98 71.77 165.64

Bromborough Manchester Manchester Prescot

667 632 555 1065

3.38 6.12 7.71 -1.63


31/12/09 31/05/09 31/12/09 30/09/09 31/03/09 30/04/09

133.29 133.13 133.1 131.93 131.24 130.6

113.75 199.53 180.4 287.5 116.16 179.98

Manchester Chester Manchester Rochdale Heywood Alderley Edge

119 590 484 550 501 805

3.47 6.61 -0.5 -1.6 4.14 -6.18

Food production Pump manufacturer Consultant engineers Domestic appliance manufacturer Oil and gas Metals manufacturer Paper manufacturer Car retail Water treatment Construction

31/12/09 31/12/08 31/12/08 30/09/09 31/12/09 31/12/09

129.23 127.18 126.29 124.61 123.45 122.04

136.28 116.09 125.73 96.92 122.34 120.24

Northwich Liverpool Sandbach Manchester Northwich Sale

623 1141 512 2633 338 224

5.92 9.35 8.29 10.18 2.69 15.45

Chemicals manufacturer Transport Minerals supplier Shoe repair Food production Financial services

31/12/06 28/02/10 31/03/09 31/12/08 30/09/09 30/06/09 31/12/05 31/03/09 31/03/09

121.97 121.72 121.3 120.25 118.62 118.43 118.08 117.45 115.67

133.24 130.52 194.49 91.2 143.99 124.43 118.62 115.73 108.47

Trafford Crewe Warrington Liverpool Stalybridge Warrington Manchester Crewe Liverpool

282 1083

22.14 0.77 0.08 -1.94 13.72 0.41 -3.66 4.14 46.6

Chemicals DIY retail Transport Car retail Aerospace Oil supplies Motor retail Stationers Port operator







31/12/09 31/12/09 31/03/09 31/03/09 31/12/09 30/06/09 30/09/08 31/05/10 30/06/09

113.86 113.59 113.4 112.35 112.08 111.98 110.71 109.74 109.34

112.33 96.74 N/A 163.33 N/A 108.47 N/A 128.65 84.4

Stockport Manchester Nantwich Wilmslow Chester Manchester Manchester Wigan Manchester

983 760 123 277 390 560 721 984 688

9.69 7.9 5.4 -11.88 -18.98 19.36 -0.15 19.41 -8.63

Tyre manufacturer Car parts distributor Chemical distributor Construction Truck & trailer rentals Tiles Engine components Crane hire Fashion retail

31/12/09 31/12/08 31/12/09 30/06/09 31/05/09 31/12/09 31/12/08 31/08/09 31/12/08

107.22 106.88 106.49 106.29 105.69 104.48 103.68 103.12 102.88

100.5 109.78 125.44 83.23 91.64 106.14 217.09 122.94 113.62

Ellesmere Port Altrincham Deeside Manchester Cheadle Warrington Wigan Bury Northwich


12.04 N/A 1.83 -1.5 14.33 9.63 -105.71 0.28 -1.71

Innovation and technology Paint manufacturer Hydrolic components Steel wholesaler Clothing manufacturer Plastics manufacturer House builder Oil and lubricants distributor Animal feeds

472 1091 129 310 2302 429

457 68 231 464 364 78 86



Automotive industry drives on AFTER an uncertain period in the 2000s, Vauxhall's parent General Motors (GM) decided to commit to Ellesmere Port by announcing production of the Astra-J would take place there from 2009. This car is in production there, and a hybrid petrol/electric car may be produced at plant (opened in 1962) at some time in the future. Vauxhall Astra Manufacturing (position 11) had a turnover of £1.5bn last year, and last March was producing 10,000 cars a month, with 2,100 employees. At place number 30, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is owned by Tata Motors of India, at Halewood, set up by Ford Motor Company as a single entity to manage the businesses of both Jaguar Cars, which it acquired in 1984, and Land Rover, which was acquired from BMW in 2000. Ford sold JLR to Tata Motors in 2008. The company employs around 1,700 staff to build its Freelander and

The Astra production line is hiring another 1,500 staff for its forthcoming Range Rover Evoque. Bentley Motors, at Crewe (41), was acquired by Volkswagen in 1998, with a deal which saw Crewe sister Rolls-Royce Motors go to BMW. After initial huge success, the revitalised company was hit hard by the recession as global sales plunged 50% to 4,616 cars in 2009. US sales fell 49% to 1,433 cars. On a turnover of £470m, it lost £282m.

Life after ICI goes on with Brunner Mond

BRUNNER Mond Group (position 81) is one of the original four 1926 companies merged to create the chemical colossus ICI. Sold off in 1991, it is a major international manufacturing company based at Winnington, Northwich, Cheshire, with 1,529 employees. It is the sole UK producer and one of Europe’s largest makers and suppliers of soda ash (sodium carbonate), sodium bicarbonate, calcium chloride and associated alkaline chemicals. These key raw materials are used to make many essential items: animal

feeds, glass, detergents, biscuits, life-saving dialysis treatments and the purification of drinking water, a huge range of industrial, household and personal care preparations depend upon its products and service. However, on a turnover of £271m last year, it made a loss of £9.3m. The Brunner Mond Group also owns the Magadi Soda, Kenya, and a distribution terminal at Durban, South Africa. Brunner Mond is wholly owned by Tata Chemicals, part of India’s Tata Group, which includes Jaguar Land Rover. Other important chemical companies are

Iceland supermarkets lead thriving food firms

THE Iceland Foods Group, (at number 5) is a supermarket chain, based at Deeside, North Waales, and Birchwood, Warrington, operating in the UK (1.8% market share), Ireland and, from January 2010, eastern Europe. It was bought by the Icelandic retail conglomerate Baugur in 2005, reinstating founder and chairman, Malcolm Walker. Iceland's primary product lines include frozen foods, like frozen prepared meals and frozen vegetables. Malcolm Walker opened his first store in 1970 at Oswestry, Shropshire, selling in loose frozen food and frozen pizzas. By 1975,

there were more than 15 Iceland outlets in North Wales and soon its first supermarket-style outlet opened in Manchester. The firm's head office moved to Deeside, Flintshire in 1979. Iceland was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1984, with 81 outlets. In 1989 Iceland bought its three times-bigger rival Bejam, to form a chain of 760 UK stores. In 2009, Iceland bought 51 stores from in the UK from the defunct Woolworths Group chain, three days after the 200 Woolworths stores closed. Iceland’s appliance showrooms closed last year so it could focus again on food retailing. Turnover

Malcolm Walker last year was 2.264bn, with profits of £110.125m. Other leading food companies include Meadow Food Holdings, Chester (95), Halewood International Holdings, Huyton, Liverpool (96), Really Good Food, Liverpool (105), Princes, Liverpool (14), John West, Liverpool (131), Warburtons, Bolton (35), and Edward Billington, Liverpool (114).

Construction across the world Brunner Mond BASF Public, Cheadle (58), one of the world’s leading producers of wholesale chemical products; Growhow UK Group, Ince (69), manufacturer of fertiliser and nitrogen compounds; Borregaard Industries, Birchwood, Warrington (93), producer of organic-based chemicals and pulp; and Innospec, Ellesmere Port (112), a fuel specialist and active chemicals maker.

CIVIL engineering consultants and project managers, Amec (3), of Knutsford, leads the industry. With annual revenues of £2.54bn and a profit of £203.5m, it has major operations in the UK and Americas, working from the Arctic to Australia, with a workforce of 23,000 people in 40 countries. Amec has worked on restarting reactors at Bruce A Power Station, in Ontario – the largest nuclear project in North America. It has worked in the North Sea oil and gas fields for 35 years, constructed Canada’s first diamond mine, installed South America’s first automated phone system and built Beauharnois Hydroelectric Station, one of the world’s largest. Construction and civil engineering company Redrow, of Ewloe, Flints (54), has seen private home sales in the financial year to date 9% up on the same period last year at £133m, which has been achieved on 6%

Steve Morgan fewer reservations, said chairman Steve Morgan, last month. The company’s turnover was £396m, with a profit of £700,000. Construction, property, plant and engineering company Seddon Group, of Holmes Chapel (92), had a turnover of £253m last year. Simon Carves, of Cheadle Hulme (127), deals in engineering, global procurement and construction. It had a turnover of £168m.

No sign of online shopping stopping Bibby heads diverse transport sector RETAILERS are led by March UK, of Speke, Liverpool (7), and its online subsidiary Shop Direct (11), a relic of Liverpool’s once great Littlewoods. Previously it was Littlewoods Shop Direct Group (also called LSDG, or LWSDG), owned by the mysterious twins David and Frederick Barclay. In 2002, the brothers purchased Littlewoods from its founders, the Moores family, for £750m. It was merged with Shop Direct to form LWSDG, to give the biggest share of the UK home shopping market. Its brands now include Littlewoods, Marshall Ward, Kays,, Great Universal, Additions and Empire Stores. The £1.7bn turnover group achieved sales of more than £50m in the first week of December and handled 7,000 orders an hour on some days, which is twice last year’s Christmas sales rush. Demand during the week was 42% ahead of the same period last year.


Shop Direct’s Speke headquarters Discount fashion and homewares retailer Matalan, of Skelmersdale (12), had a £1.1bn turnover and a profit of £103m, through 210 stores and its online business. The company is owned by the family of founder John Hargreaves. Discount retailer HomeBargains owner TJ Morris, of Gillmoss, Liverpool (38), hopes to break the £1bn sales mark soon, but has a turnover of £481m and £42m profit.

BIBBY Line Group is the world’s oldest deepsea family-run shipping line (at position 13), concerned with shipping and maritime operations. Turnover last year was £1.09bn, with a profit of £21.8m. Since the 1980s, Bibby has also diversified into finance and logistics. The Bibby Line was founded in 1807 and its chief executive is the sixth generation, Sir Michael Bibby. His father, Sir Derek Bibby, survived the harsh 1970s and 1980s, by buying floating accommodation. The company employs around 3,500 people, mainly in UK distribution. It has

financial services offices in USA, Australia, Poland, France and Canada. Bibby’s original core base of shipping has revived and grew fourfold in the 2003-07 period on the back of the success of its floating accommodation business, ship management and disposal of ships. Now a new fleet of ships is planned, with the bulk carrier m/v Shropshire already trading in the Far East and another under construction in China. Liverpool has seen a small renaissance as a maritime centre, with the world’s biggest container line CMA CGM (89), moving its UK HQ here. Haulier, warehousing

Sir Michael Bibby and transport logistics company Eddie Stobart (68), celebrating its 40th anniversary, is now based at Appleton, Warrington. In 2007, it acquired O'Connor Ports, including its Widnes railhead and container-handling facility, developing it into the 3MG, Mersey Modal Gateway. Air transport support firm Servisair (116), has its HQ at Manor Park, Runcorn.

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With Derek Millard-Smith, specialist motoring lawyer, for Hill Dickinson LLP

WE’LL soon be holding this year’s office party and know that staff will be enjoying a few drinks. What level of responsibility does a business have when it comes to employee drink-driving incidents?


“OUT with the old and in with the new” may soon take on new meaning for business, particularly during office party season. The advent of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 has ushered in new and greater responsibilities for business organisations which could spell the end of alcoholfuelled Christmas fun. While there have yet to be any complete prosecutions under this relatively new legislation, an organisation can be guilty of an offence if: “The way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death and this amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care owed to the deceased.” This impacts on a company’s duties to its staff and other road users where driving is required as part of the business operation. If a company actively plies its staff with drink, at Christmas, when staff are required to drive within hours of the party and a drink-related accident follows – the company could be at risk of prosecution. An estimated 80 deaths per year are caused by drivers who are under the drinkdrive limit but who have a significant amount of alcohol in their blood. These drivers and those only slightly over the limit have often been caught unawares following drinking the previous night. This risk increases during the festive season and all employers, in particular those who require their staff

to drive for work, can take practical steps to ensure they do not contribute to these risks and statistics. The legal drink-drive limit and when it is safe to drive after drinking The legal drink drive limit is 35mcg of Alcohol/100ml of breath (80mg/100ml of blood). Approximately five units of alcohol consumed one after the other would cause someone’s alcohol content to reach this level but varies considerably depending upon: ● sex, height and weight; ● type/quantity alcohol consumed; ● start and end times of drinking. When it is safe to drive after drinking depends considerably on the factors above, but the old-fashioned rule of thumb is that an average person metabolises one unit of alcohol per hour, a “unit” being ½ pint beer, a single spirit measure or 125ml glass wine. Appropriate and diligent advice to employees must be that it is safest to drive without alcohol in their system and many employers have a zero tolerance policy toward drink-driving.

‘Many employers adopt zero tolerance on drink driving’


Minimise the Risks Employers can avoid contributing to the drinkdrive casualty statistics by taking a few simple steps: ● Plan festivities to avoid essential next day driving, ie, hold them on a Friday; ● Avoid free bars which encourage binge drinking; ● Provide transport, buses, taxis, etc, to take people home; ● Encourage and incentivise the avoidance of alcohol altogether when driving is contemplated the next day; ● Adopt a similar stance to driving while tired. ■ CONTACT Derek via email: derek.millard-smith@ Or you can follow him on Twitter: _speedingticket

The city represents the whole of the UK

By Lord Mayor of the City of London, Michael Bear

WHEN people think of “the City”, they tend to think of big banks paying their employees big salaries to work in big towers in London. But, of the 1m people the financial and professional services industry employs throughout the UK, less than a third are based in London and the South East. And as the Lord Mayor of the City of London, I represent firms regardless of their ownership or geographic location, acting as an ambassador for “the City” in the broadest sense both at home and abroad. This industry is vital to the UK’s future prosperity. Even during the financial crisis, it continued to make a huge contribution to the economy, generating 10% of GDP and 12.1% of the total tax take. This industry is also crucial to Liverpool’s future prosperity; contributing £1.3bn to the economy every year and providing employment for 126,000 people in the local area. It is in all of our interests to ensure Liverpool’s burgeoning financial services industry goes from strength to strength. The Government has said that it wants to make the economy less dependent on financial services and that it aims to spread growth around the UK. I fully support this – but only a sophisticated and globally connected financial services industry is capable of delivering the combination of finance and specialist expertise British businesses will need if they are to succeed. We must accept that it is not the financial services industry that should slow; it is other sectors that must grow. One of the main concerns for City firms at the moment is the UK’s international competitiveness. There is a lack of certainty around issues such as tax, regulation and skilled immigration – and international business needs a background of stability and predictability in order to plan. The financial services industry understands the need for change, but we must be careful not to cut off our nose to spite our face. A quick glance at the list of businesses with offices in Liverpool makes it clear that issues of international competitiveness are as relevant here as they are in London. Coutts, Bank of New York, Deutsche Bank – these are all global companies and being based in Liverpool is a business decision, pure and simple. If the UK’s competitive

Alderman Michael Bear – keenly aware that his role is to represent all of the UK’s financial and professional firms position is further eroded then Liverpool, like other centres, will suffer as global firms consider downsizing the scale of their overall UK operations, focusing instead on more welcoming business environments overseas. It is not just the big firms that will be affected; changes to the regulatory landscape will impact upon even the smallest, most locally-focused, companies as they strive to cover the costs of complying with a new mountain of red tape. That is why my message in Liverpool was a simple one: The UK has a world-class financial services industry – I want it to stay that way. Unless we stand together and emphasise the importance of retaining a strong and vibrant financial services industry, jobs will be lost, the Treasury’s tax receipts will be down, and our overall economic recovery will be placed in jeopardy.

It is good to see that Liverpool’s business leaders are already taking into account the global perspective, making sure they are well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that will come their way in the years to come. With its proud history as a great port, Liverpool is a leading centre for maritime finance and is twinned with Shanghai. Indeed, at the Shanghai Expo last year, Liverpool was the only city in the UK with a stall, bringing the unique benefits of doing business in this great and historic city to an international audience. It is with innovation and foresight like this that we can help to ensure our financial services industry plays a full and proper role in driving forward our recovery, while also helping the Government achieve its stated aim of introducing greater economic diversity in the UK.



▲ ▲

Chris Houghton and the team at Park Group make it their mission to give families a happy Christmas 17

THE BIG INTERVIEW . . . CHRIS HOUGHTON CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17 T THIS time of year, it’s hard to avoid the strains of Wizzard’s festive classic, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. But it’s a familiar refrain at Birkenhead’s Park Group, which helps people with their Christmas wishes every day. Park is still widely known as a hamper company, but those hampers today make up just 5% of the business. Today Park is, in effect, a financial services company, helping more than 400,000 people each year to save for Christmas. It sounds like an old-fashioned business, but under managing director Chris Houghton the company has embraced technology enthusiastically. It has revamped its website to encourage savers online, while this year it launched its first Flexecash electronic gift voucher card. Aside from its Christmas savings business, Park also sells gift cards and vouchers to thousands of corporate customers. This year, Park also made its first international acquisition, buying Dublin-based Celtic Hampers and Family Hampers in a deal worth up to £800,000. By now all Christmas vouchers have been delivered, while hampers are on their way to customers. But Park’s work doesn’t stop when the hampers leave the warehouse. The company is already planning for next year, with a series of television adverts starring Coleen Nolan now being aired to encourage people to start saving for 2011. Park and its Christmas savings rivals took a big hit in 2006 when Farepak collapsed, leaving thousands of savers out of pocket. But the company has worked hard to restore confidence in Christmas savings, and customer numbers are again on the up. And, Houghton insists, the economic downturn may also help Park as recession-hit customers turn to its Christmas savings scheme to ensure they can afford to celebrate the festive season. “We don’t see the current troubles as a major problem because Christmas savings is a very prudent way of budgeting for Christmas,” he said. “Customers put a small amount aside every week to get a chunk of value, in vouchers or in hampers. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible to do that. “We’ve spent a lot of time developing the website so people can see how much they’ve saved, change their orders, and communicate with us. “We have our avatar, Wanda, who’s our fairy. You can go online and ask her a question. There’s an answer to any question we’ve ever been asked. “You can pay at banks, building societies, and by PayPoint. A lot of our customers are paying by direct debit. It’s about making it easier.” The success of Park’s transformation was shown in its strong half-year results last week. It saw total sales rise by 49% to £50.91m, while its pre-tax loss – excluding a VAT rebate – narrowed from £4.2m the year before to £3.9m in the first six months of this year. Park normally makes a loss in the first half, reflecting the

We are bringing in new retailers – Chris Houghton in Park Group’s Birkenhead warehouse



Park Group founder Peter Johnson with the Business Person of the Year award, at the Daily Post’s Regional Business Awards in 1995

Chris Houghton with a Flexecash card seasonal nature of the business. But this year, thanks to a £4.4m VAT rebate, it made an overall pre-tax profit of £541,000. Speaking to LDP Business shortly after announcing those figures, Houghton was bullish about the company’s recent performance. “All parts of the business are up,” he said. “Cash is up. Christmas is up. Corporate sales are up. Online sales are up.” And, sitting in his office a few days earlier, Houghton said he believed there was still much more potential for growth in the Christmas savings market. “When you think about it, it’s a sensible thing to do,” he said. “Not many people do it out of the general population. But if you’re

going to have a big expense at Christmas, it’s a sensible way to do it. “Our work is about making it easier and flexible. We can take the stress away.” Park was founded in 1967 by Peter Johnson, who is still the company’s chairman. “Peter is a hands-on executive chairman,” said Houghton. “He’s in every day and still enjoys coming in.” It was originally called the Park Hamper Company and, as its name suggests, focused on supplying hampers at Christmas. Park first introduced its Love2Shop vouchers in 1982, after starting work with Woolworths. Those vouchers have taken over from hampers as Park’s main

source of income, but Park still offers a wide choice of hampers. Houghton says the company’s warehouse staff enjoy packing the hampers to make them as exciting as possible for their recipients. “Hampers are still important to us,” he said. “Some people think they’re ‘food parcels’, but for some people it’s part of Christmas. It’s a box of goods full of shredded cellophane. Kids go mad for it.” Park has diversified in several ways over the years – one unsuccessful attempt was DJ Spuddles potato snacks – but today its core business is supplying gift vouchers, both to Christmas savers and to corporate clients. “It’s a great business,” said

Houghton. “We’ve got a good team and there’s a good spirit. “Unless you’ve got a good team of people and good customer service, then you’re not going to succeed. “We’ve gone from hampers to vouchers and pre-paid cards. Mobile phone apps are next, and maybe intangible digital vouchers. “The business has changed massively in terms of the system and skills we need. “We’ve gone through a process of acquiring businesses. We’ve had diversification in the past. Various recessions have come and gone. “We’re building a business on our strengths. “Our strength really is in the


loyalty of our customer base, the skills of our staff and the service we offer. “Vouchers give more choice than hampers. Cards give more flexibility, and you can check the balance or cancel it if it gets lost. Plastic, potentially, will evolve further.” Houghton, an accountant by training, was born in Northamptonshire but grew up in Wirral, attending Calday Grange Grammar School. Before he joined Park, in November, 1986, Houghton learned his trade at some of the region’s other business icons – including Unilever, in Port Sunlight, and Littlewoods Pools. He became Park’s finance director in 2001 and managing director in 2004.

Asked how the business has changed since he arrived, Houghton’s first thought is “technology”. In 1987, he recalls, the business did not have a PC on every desk. Today, the company is working hard to improve its online offering, and Houghton brings up the website in almost every discussion of Park’s business. Park has invested heavily in its IT system and has worked with Liverpool cloud computing and data security specialist AIMES Grid Services. “The business has evolved and developed,” said Houghton, “and with that has come changes in technology and regulations. “Now we’ve got to the stage where we have all these multiple

channels. We’re able to connect with customers much more effectively than we could in 1987.” One technological innovation of which Houghton is particularly proud is the Flexecash card, a plastic card that acts as a pre-paid electronic gift voucher. It took the company a year to win Financial Services Authority approval, which it finally gained in May. The scheme went live in June with 13 retailers. Today, it has 22 retail brands, including Debenhams, HMV and Boots. “We’re getting some big retailers now,” said Houghton. “It’s another string to our bow. It gives us a bit of flexibility. They’re perhaps a bit simpler to handle than vouchers. With corporate

customers, they can load the cards up with vouchers from time to time as part of a staff incentive scheme.” Cards can also be tailored for individual customers so they can only be used at particular retailers. Park has tailored its own cards for sale through its own Christmas catalogue. It sells gift cards for use in shoe and clothing retailers – branded as Style Gift Cards for men and Glamour Gift Cards for women – as well as furniture, toy, jewellery and technology cards. Its cards and vouchers are often bought as presents, but are also used for staff incentive schemes, handed out as prizes or rewards. Houghton says Park’s corporate

clients “range from multinational businesses such as Santander through to owner-managed businesses”. “We use it ourselves for our loyalty awards,” he said. “The opportunities are almost as varied as your imagination.” Over the years, Park has built strong relationships with retailers. “We drive footfall to them,” said Houghton. “We work with retailers to help promote their businesses. “The more we generate in terms of sales of vouchers, the more footfall and spending power we drive towards partner retailers. “There are some gaps in our proposition that we would like to fill, but we have a pretty good proposition. “We need to make sure that the value for our retailers increases year-on-year. If you bring too many in, it could dilute that. “But we are bringing in new retailers – we’ve just brought in Toys’R’Us. That’s been in demand among our customers. “It’s new cash into the consumer market. People are saving for Christmas throughout the year. If they didn’t do that, then that extra spend might not be there at Christmas.” As for Park’s Christmas savings business, orders are already coming in for Christmas, 2011 – boosted by the Coleen Nolan-fronted advertising campaign. Park’s rivals today include Newton-le-Willows-based Variety Christmas Club, which has its own range of shopping vouchers. The Post Office also has its own Christmas Club, complete with electronic voucher card that can be spent at many High Street stores. But Houghton is convinced that Park offers the widest choice of retailers, and that its long record in the market gives customers confidence. “We do everything we can to provide security for our customers. We deliver what we say we are going to, and we ask people what they want. We spend a lot of time trying to make our proposition as good as we can.” Talk of consumer confidence inevitably leads to a discussion of the F-word. Farepak’s collapse in 2006, which left 150,000 savers around £40m out of pocket, caused a collapse in confidence in the Christmas savings sector. Park saw customer numbers slump from 617,000 in 2006 to 399,000 in late 2007, while the company faced calls for Government regulation of the sector to prevent more families from losing out. The company teamed up with its remaining rivals and the Department of Trade and Industry to launch the Christmas Prepayment Association, a trade body committed to improving confidence in the sector. “I’m a director of the association,” he said. “The Post Office is a member. Variety is a member. We’ve got independent directors. We deal with complaints and monitor service levels. “We spent a lot of time discussing it and putting it together, and it works well. It’s all



THE BIG INTERVIEW . . . CHRIS HOUGHTON CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19 about giving the customer confidence, and that’s important to us.” And with that Houghton dismisses any more talk of Farepak, saying simply: “It doesn’t help to rake it up. It’s the past.” Houghton is equally dismissive of critics of the rewards offered by Christmas savings schemes. “There are detractors – people who say you don’t get interest on these savings. You don’t, but you do get commission. “The minimum commission Park pay is 1% – though agents who collect savings for other customers can earn more.” Houghton said the average commission for a direct customer was around 2.1%, while agents earn an average of 4%. “When interest rates are 0.5%, it makes sense to save weekly,” he said. “A lot of our customers are low-income families. We help them prepare for Christmas.” Park employs 220 permanent staff, bringing in another 200 temporary staff every Christmas. From the end of August to Christmas, Park’s packing hall is busy packing hampers and other festive parcels. For the rest of the year, Park’s permanent staff carry out contract packing work for other companies. Its cold storage facilities are also used for third-party storage, for products such as pizza and meats. As well as its Park brand, Park also sells under the Family and Country brands. Its website,, sells vouchers for other retailers, including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. It has its own travel agency, which redeems its Love 2 Travel vouchers that it sells to corporate customers. The full-service agency works with 300 tour operators. “Car hire, hotels, flight bookings – you name it, we can get it,” said Houghton. In October, Park announced it was moving into the eurozone for the first time, after buying Dublin-based Celtic Hampers and Family Hampers in a deal that will be worth up to £900,000. The businesses will be rebranded as Park, using Park’s own suppliers. Houghton is excited about the possibilities for growth in Ireland. “Because of European money legislation, we can passport our authorisation for the card overseas,” he said. “We’re looking to do that, if it’s viable. “We have a euro voucher. It’s got fewer retailers on it because not all retailers are there. We’re trying to get Irish retailers on board. “The business we acquired was quite a bit bigger a few years ago. There’s scope to grow not just Christmas savings but also the corporate voucher market. It’s quite exciting for us and it’s taken quite a bit of time. “We’ll probably have a small presence in Ireland, but most of it can be serviced from here. We already supply Northern Ireland.” Ireland is engulfed in economic turmoil, but Houghton does not expect that to derail Park’s new Irish business. Instead – as in the UK – he expects that recession-hit shoppers may turn to Christmas


Chris Houghton says Park was best-known for its hampers, but today most of its Christmas savers prefer to receive vouchers savings schemes to make sure they can still enjoy the festive season. Asked if Park would consider more adventures in the eurozone, he said: “Who knows?” He added: “We’ll see how we get on. We are building our capabilities. “In terms of Christmas savings, they’re established in Ireland. I’m not particularly aware of it being established anywhere else in Europe. “But vouchers are established in Europe. We could export pre-paid cards to Europe relatively easily, but we need to

build retailer relationships in those countries.” But Houghton says such a move is not imminent. “We’ve got a lot to do in the UK at the moment,” he smiled. The company rode out the post-Farepak depression in the festive savings market and has also successfully battled through the recession. “Fortunately, touch wood, the corporate business has stayed pretty strong,” said Houghton. “If you go back to Christmas, 2009, we started advertising for that in late 2008 at the time Lehman Brothers collapsed. The

advertising campaign ran through to February, in which time Woolworths closed, Zavvi closed, and there were a lot of redundancies announced. People worried if it was the end of the world. That dampened the Christmas savings market. “But the following year, things stabilised. This year, we should do OK. “The other thing that impacted on the business was lower interest rates, because a chunk of our profits comes from interest rates. “If there’s an interest rate rise in the New Year, that’s positive for us. A lot of businesses dread an

interest rate rise, but we look forward to it.” Santa’s sleigh can’t be stopped by snow. And nor, it seems, can Park’s delivery network. The recent heavy snow across much of the UK caused havoc on the roads, but Houghton says the company will manage to deliver all of its Christmas goodies to thousands of satisfied customers. “We got most of the goods out before the snow hit,” he said. “We had some hampers in limbo in Scotland, but they’ve started moving again. “The snow slowed us down, but it won’t stop us.”


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DEVELOPMENT Autumn chill increases retailers’ jitters about prospects for 2011

John Lewis’s weekly sales from November 29, 2009, to November 27, 2010. Liverpool One’s performance is in red, while all John Lewis’s stores, including its website, are denoted by the blue line

RETAILER John Lewis is widely seen as a bellwether of middle-class spending. If the tills are ringing at the department store, then the economy can’t be doing so badly, so the theory goes. The last 12 months have been very positive for the group, boosted by new stores in Croydon, Swindon and Tunbridge Wells. They don’t account for all of the growth, though, with most John Lewis stores enjoying year-on-year growth, including Liverpool One. The graph shows how the store, an anchor tenant of the Grosvenor shopping development, managed to build on

its first-year achievements. However, since September, sales have dipped and the Christmas trading period will be closely watched by retail analysts already wary of the effect of January’s VAT increase. The British Retail Consortium-Nielsen Shop Price Index fell to 2.0% in November, marking the end of a run of increases as consumers remained nervous about their spending. Nielsen’s Mike Watkins said: “We remain concerned about the underlying inflationary pressures and the VAT increase in January, and whether this impacts on the motivation of the already cautious consumer.”

Improving a pound at a time

There are positive long-term indicators for the city’s economy – despite the recession THE recession, which technically lasted for 18 months to the end of the third quarter of 2009, has already cast a three-year shadow over the economy. But the consensus is that so far Liverpool city region has not been too badly affected – aided by the large investments in previous years such as Liverpool One and the Capital of Culture year, as well as the long-standing reliance on public sector employment. Peter Stoney, of Liverpool Research Group in Macro-economics, said: “The private sector is well capable of stepping into the breach – should the worst happen. “Coupled with higher productivity from public sector economies and greater efficiency, together with the Government’s policies of encouraging more people into work and off benefits, the next few years can be approached with a sense of optimism.” Mr Stoney points to the impact of development in the last few

years to explain why the city region can be confident about the future. He said: “It is not hard to see why the prospects for the local sub-regional economies are quite bright because infrastructure developments are plainly visible with the naked eye, especially in Liverpool, with new hotels, museums, Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre, and a cruise liner terminal at the Pier Head. “It is encouraging, too, that central government has identified infrastructure investment as a key influence on private sector profitability, which improves through lower transport costs. Hence the second Mersey crossing at Runcorn has survived the CSR, as have several road investment projects throughout the sub-region. “Good business news recently has included the continued success of motor car assembly at Jaguar Land Rover, Halewood, and at Vauxhall, Ellesmere Port, as well as KLM’s airline

operations out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport. “In addition, Peel Holdings’ ambitious plans for developing both sides of the River Mersey demonstrate how the private sector can make a huge contribution to future prosperity. Peels’ proposed investment in a post-Panamax in-river cargo terminal would put Liverpool on the calling map of international shipping companies for decades. “Following Liverpool’s presence at the recent Shanghai Expo, there is also the prospect of significant inward investment from China. “In this respect, it is very important that planning and other constraints should be kept to a bare minimum, especially in respect of considerations of preserving heritage. Liverpool, in particular, has far too many pockets of severe deprivation for heritage considerations to be paramount.” While Liverpool, and the wider city region, has made progress in

The aerial view of Liverpool city centre shows how much it has changed through massive development programmes recent years, its poor economic legacy remains stubbornly difficult to overcome. “Much positive progress has been made over the last 20 years in improving the lot of Merseysiders,” said Mr Stoney. “But it remains the case – as recent government statistics show – that Liverpool has the highest proportion, 32%, of workless households of any UK city.

“Coupled with another shocking statistic that one in six of all Merseyside school leavers – much higher than nationally – have no qualifications whatsoever, then there clearly remains much to be done before it can be said that the local economy is on a par with the rest of the country. “In other words, the socioeconomic environment is still challenging.”



City’s resurgence ‘not a flash in the pan’ LIVERPOOL’S economy enjoyed a boom in 2008 as its GVA grew at 4.9% – the second-fastest rate in the country. GVA – gross value added, a measure of economic output – increased by nearly £1,000, to £19,647 per head, outpaced only by the area which includes the City of London. Liverpool’s economic development agency, Liverpool Vision, was delighted at the headline-grabbing figure, but also highlighted the long-term trend shown by the data. Since 1995, Liverpool has

seen a 105% increase in its GVA. This “nominal” figure is unadjusted for inflation. Although the effects of inflation vary from area to area, real growth over the 13-year period, of about 45%, compared with a UK average of 33%. Max Steinberg, chief executive of Liverpool Vision: “The 2008 GVA data clearly demonstrates the very positive impact of the investment which took place in 2007 and 2008 in the city centre and through European Capital of Culture. “The mainstay of that investment was from the private sector.

“But while these results for 2008 are very positive and very welcome, the real story is in the significant growth which has taken place since 1995 and which also outpaces regional and national trends. “The 2008 results are therefore not a flash in the pan, but part of a steady renaissance which has capitalised on Liverpool’s exceptional capacity for growth. “These results will further reinforce Liverpool’s growing reputation across the world as one of the best places in the UK to invest and do business.”

Jobless recovery cloud on horizon

Source: ONS

GVA SHARE BY INDUSTRY SECTOR Industry sector / 1998 / 2008 Agriculture, forestry and fishing (grey) 0.3% 0.2% Construction (yellow) 4.7% 6.5% Production (purple) 20.2% 13.0% Distribution, transport and comms (green) 22.4% 21.4% Business services and finance (blue) 22.7% 27.2% Public admin, education, health (orange) 29.8% 31.7%


A MARKED feature of the recession has been the way unemployment figures repeatedly failed to match the gloomy forecasts. Even so, in the two years up to the peak in the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) in the city region – when it reached 58,200 in February, 2010 – a net total of more than 22,000 people were on the register. The city region’s 60% increase in that period was significantly smaller than the North West’s 87% rise, while the UK claimant count almost exactly doubled. Peter Stoney, of the Liverpool Research Group in Macro-economics, has been consistently optimistic about unemployment levels throughout the downturn. In an interview with the Daily Post, in March, 2009, when official unemployment figures for Liverpool city region were below 50,000 but national predictions were fearing the worst, he forecast a peak of 60,000. In February, 2010, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in the city region peaked at 58,200, before falling by 8,200 in the following six months. Mr Stoney expects the unemployment rate to continue to fall, although he does not expect Merseyside to make serious inroads into the large gap between its level and the UK average. He said: “The recovery patterns of the UK as a whole are shared in the local regions. They, too, collapsed in 2009 and are making a slow recovery in 2010, which as elsewhere has strengthened during the year.

Unemployment has, so far, failed to reach expected levels “Unemployment has been contained, remarkably given the severity of the recession. The reason seems to be that workers have been willing to take wage freezes or even cuts and also work part-time, rather than lose their jobs. “Unemployment is forecast to fall, although Merseyside’s rate stays well above the UK’s. “Furthermore, Merseyside’s working population is forecast to rise, which is a fundamental pre-condition for improving local prosperity because the huge shrinkage of population since 1980 created vast areas of blight – Merseyside’s population became too small for its geographical size.” But now, with the economy still feeling its way cautiously out of recession, the concern is that it will be a “jobless

recovery”. Although the city region saw a fall of nearly 8,000 claimants in the five months following its peak, the ups and downs of the next four months resulted in a net increase of four people. The number of JSA claimants per unfilled Jobcentre vacancy stood at 7.2 last month, after a year where it has ranged between 6.1 and 9.8. While the position has eased from the double-digit levels that marked a lot of 2009 – it peaked at 16.4 claimants per job vacancy – it still remains much higher than the 3.6-6.4 range that was the case for all but one month out of 36 in 2006-2008. How the public sector job losses impact on the labour market – and to what extent the private sector can help – will be key for the next few years.


City centre is moving on up

Beetham’s West Tower is one of the developments that has transformed Liverpool city centre

Swathes of empty apartments are a thing of the past THE population of Liverpool’s city centre has soared by more than 9,000 people in three years as the over-supply of apartments has evaporated. Vacancy rates have plummeted as students and young professionals have moved into the city on the back of the huge transformation of the lifestyle offer. There are now more than 10,000 students living in the city centre, among a total population of 24,000. The market has changed massively since the city centre had thousands of empty units. “We built too many apartments too quickly,” said Alan Bevan, director of Liverpool estate agents City Residential. “We built, say, 10 years of stock in five years and the people who were buying them were the wrong type of buyers. They didn’t do their research. “Two things have happened – house prices remained pretty high and the rental market has ballooned. “The main thing for Liverpool is the students phenomenon. About five years ago, students wanted to be in places like Smithdown Road, now they want to be in the city centre. “The big criticism of city centre living has always been that we don’t have the same level of corporate employment as, say, Leeds and Manchester. “But there has been a shift from the suburbs, people aren’t living three or four miles away. The people who were living in areas like Crosby, Formby and Mossley Hill are now renting in the city centre instead. “Previously it was expensive to rent in the city centre, now you can get it for the same price as in

City Residential’s Alan Bevan the better suburbs. This has happened along with the growth in the students – all in a two-year period.” Those factors have combined to turn a large over-supply into a position where agents nearly ran out of flats in the summer. This resulted in growing demand for dockland properties, outside the defined city centre area. Apartments just outside the defined boundaries, which include properties such as The Reach, on Leeds Street, and South Ferry Quay, at Brunswick Dock, add a further 5,000 to the city centre population. “We have got an under-supply in some areas and it will start to drive prices up,” said Mr Bevan. “We are starting to see that now. If it becomes less affordable, people will revert back either to the flat in Crosby or the student house in Wavertree. “Rental prices were falling from 2006 to 2009 because of the supply. Not drastically, but probably about 3%-4% a year. “In the last six months, we are

starting to see some rises. We haven’t seen anything like the rises I think we will see, which could be 10%-15% in the next 18-24 months. “In 2011, the population figure will nudge up. There’s a couple of big schemes – Mann Island and Kings Dock – and a couple of smaller schemes. “There will be an increase in population, but it will be tempered by the availability of stock. We expect vacancy rates to fall and the population to continue to increase, although not at the same rate. But, if we had the stock, we could fill it.” Mr Bevan believes people will start buying again if the rental market stays strong, but the sales market remains very quiet. He added: “We are now dealing with proper investors and with people who want to live here – parents buying for their children and so on – but we could do with a few more of them. “The level of sales transactions in the city centre is appalling. It’s probably about one-third of the peak, in late 2007 to early 2008, when the wheels came off.” However, the state of the housing market has increased demand to rent more expensive apartments in the city. “Someone who can rent at £1,000 a month has to have an income, whether it’s on their own or combined, of £50,000-£70,000. “What we are seeing is a lot of people who could buy aren’t buying because they don’t have the deposit or are worried about the direction of house prices. “Mann Island is coming on next and that’s going to have a lot of mid to upper-end stuff. “That will be a big test for the market.”

The total stock of city centre properties has risen, from 7,621 in 2007, to 11,179 in 2010, while vacancy rates (denoted by the faded area) have fallen from 22% to 11% Data as of October 31 for each year Source: City Residential



Airport lags behind 2007 despite improvements

IT HAS been a turbulent year at Liverpool John Lennon Airport (JLA) which has seen its owner announce record losses of nearly £9m and sell a majority stake to a Canadian airports group. Airside, flights were grounded by volcanic ash, but despite that there was consistent year-on-year

passenger growth for most of the year. However, as the graph shows, 2010 passenger numbers (in red) are still much lower than JLA’s best year, 2007 (in black), when 5.47m people used the airport. The differences in monthly trends through spring in the two years are

because of the volcanic ash, which saw airspace closed for six days in April and further disruption in early May, while May, 2007, was boosted by Liverpool FC’s appearance in the Champions League Final in Athens. Passenger numbers in 2010 saw increases in eight of the first 10 months,

running at more than 5% ahead of 2009, while October produced a record figure for that month. For November and December, the graph indicates passenger levels for last year. However, reduced winter schedules mean airport bosses are expecting marked falls, even from 2009 levels.

SOURCE: Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Rooms for improvement

The city’s hotel sector has faced a challenging year – and next year could be just as tricky THE hotel sector in Liverpool has seen extraordinary growth in recent years as operators have flooded into the market. Hilton, Novotel, Malmaison and Jury’s Inn are just a few of the global brands now in the city which have helped add thousands of hotel rooms to its stock. The BT Convention Centre and Liverpool Echo Arena, which opened at the start of 2008, is credited with being massively important for hoteliers as a draw for overnight visitors, especially in midweek. Weekends continue to see football fans fill the rooms of luxury and budget hotels alike around matchday. But the recession has put pressure on occupancy levels and prices across the country, with Liverpool proving to be no exception. Robert Barnard, partner for hotel consultancy services at PKF, said: “The capital has continued to post robust results, which suggests that global business travel continues to strengthen. “The regions are a mixed picture with some cities posting stronger results than others. “Overall, the figures are relatively positive, but as the public sector cuts start to hit home, it is likely the regional figures will start to fall back again in 2011.” In the year to September, occupancy


Occupancy rates have held up quite well in 2010, but prices have been under pressure rates have risen in three months and fallen in six – although only marginally in January. Since the start of spring, as the graphic shows, rates have ranged from a low of 71.3% seen in May to a peak of 78.0% achieved in September. This is compared with a range of 71.0% to 79.2% for the same

March to September period a year earlier. However, prices, as measured by the average achieved room rate, has struggled. It has shown a year-on-year improvement only once, up 93p to £66.29 in May, with the other eight months showing falls of between £2.09 and £3.62 a room. This has fed through to rooms yield

Source: PKF

levels, which combines the occupancy levels and prices achieved. The small improvements seen in April and May, up 1.4% and 0.4% respectively, have been overshadowed by seven monthly falls. Five of those have been significant, ranging between 5% and 8.1%.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTY Key deal: the Queensgate Building, in Birkenhead, was acquired by the Contact Company

Another tough year ahead

Region’s beleaguered commercial property agents predict another difficult market in 2011 THIS year has been another tough one for the commercial property market in Merseyside and the North West. However, agents in the region remain realistic about the prospects for 2011. Liverpool-based Mason Owen’s biggest office deal of the year was a 30,000 sq ft letting to Liverpool Football Club, at 20 Chapel Street, in the city centre. The agency said: “2010 has been an extremely tough year for all

sectors of the market, but the city centre office market has been the worst affected and characterised by extremely low levels of take-up, falling rents and rising incentive packages. Occupiers have been able to capitalise on these conditions by relocating or renegotiating existing terms. “The lack of liquidity has meant that, in reality, very little has changed hands. “It is unrealistic to expect to see any dramatic improvement in

market conditions during 2011, as any return to normality is likely to be gradual.” Knight Frank’s biggest Merseyside deal this year was the sale of the Queensgate Building, in Birkenhead. The agency’s Paul Kelly said: “The market was affected by the uncertainty in the economy. “This uncertainty led to occupiers not making decisions and therefore dramatically reduced activity in the market

place, particularly on the office side. The true performance and take-up of 2009 was distorted by two large deals. Liverpool has not landed deals of this size during 2010. It will continue to be a bumpy ride with any occupiers that actually decide to move securing heavily discounted and incentivised deals.” King Sturge’s biggest deal was the £16.73m sale of 478,000 sq ft Galaxy Warehouse, in Knowsley. Liverpool partner in charge,

Chris Prescott, said: “2010 has been another quite tough year, although there have been a number of transactions, many concluded by opportunistic buyers taking advantage of the market. “We anticipate much of the same for next year. However, we expect prices will harden in 2011 for certain industrial/warehouse property as stock is taken up, as there is no new speculative development to replace it.”



Professor Jonathan Rhodes, who is working on Crohn’s Disease

Biotech firm hoping Fruitflow is

Provexis hopes ‘effective and safe’ tomato extract will become a recognised treatment for RESEARCH published by scientists at The University of Oxford last month found that taking a small dose of Aspirin every day significantly reduces the risk of premature death caused by a variety of cancers and heart disease. The news made big headlines. Taking 75ml of the ancient painkiller between the ages of 50 and 75 does reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer, throat cancer and cardiovascular disease by 25%. There is, however, the potentially serious, even life-threatening, side-effect of stomach bleeds in a small number of patients. An alternative therapy for cardiovascular health, which has


not had the same level of publicity as the Oxford research, has been developed by a biotechnology firm with connections to the Universities of Liverpool and Aberdeen. Known as Fruitflow, the technology is the intellectual property of Provexis, an Alternative Investment Market quoted company that has a base at the University of Liverpool’s Merseybio biotechnology business incubation building in Crown Street. Earlier this year, Provexis announced it had completed a human trial comparing the effects of Fruitflow, made from tomato extract, with Aspirin. Results from the trial show that Fruitflow inhibits several pathways

involved in platelet aggregation, a process responsible for clotting blood and thrombosis. In contrast, Aspirin primarily targets only one specific platelet pathway. This means Fruitflow could potentially be used as a preventative measure in cardiovascular health. The trial was undertaken by Provexis at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, part of the University of Aberdeen, with independent statistical analysis by BIOSS, and is the tenth placebo controlled human trial undertaken with the Fruitflow extract. The discovery about the benefits of the tomato extract was made by Professor Asim Duttaroy, who at the time was based at Aberdeen, but now holds an

academic post in Oslo. He took the observation that people in Mediterranean countries suffered from a lower incidence of heart disease and tried to establish exactly what it was about their diet that caused this. He examined about 70 foods before narrowing it down to 37 small bio-active elements found in the shells of tomato seeds. Prof Duttaroy then formulated his findings into a tomato extract that could be used in fruit juices or as capsules and pills. It is not a genetically modified food nor any type of pharmaceutical. Nevertheless, Provexis has spent the past five years subjecting Fruitflow to scientific trials. “So many health foods are

founded on nothing more than old wives tales,” says Stephen Moon, chief executive of the company. “We wanted to prove that ours was effective and safe.” Indeed, the trials have pre-empted recent European Union legislation requiring health foods to be subjective to safety trials. One of the company’s investors is Dutch food ingredients business DSM. Coincidentally, the same company has also struck a licensing agreement to market the extract in Spain. The aim now is for Provexis to develop four or five further healthrelated food ingredient products. One potential new technology uses extract from plantain as a treatment of Inflammatory Bowel



The University of Liverpool’s Merseybio business incubation building, in Crown Street

food for thought cardiovascular conditions Disease, or Crohn’s Disease. The research is being undertaken by Professor Jonathan Rhodes. “We have had just one researcher based at Liverpool until recently, but we have now beefed that up to four,” explains Mr Moon. He added that the company was particularly keen to make use of the recently opened human trial facility at Liverpool. Initial funding for Provexis was provided by Angle, Rising Stars Growth Fund and North West Equity Fund. In 2005, Provexis merged with Nutrinnovator, founded by Mr Moon, giving Provexis its AIM listing. Recent developments include two additions to the R&D pipeline: a technology from the University of Liverpool for the treatment of

clostridium difficile; and a technology from the University of Manchester for the treatment and prevention of peptic ulcers. News a year ago that Fruitflow had won European regulatory approval sent the shares up from below 1p to almost 15p, though the shares have since been in retreat. Through its housebroker Evolution, Provexis has put in place a funding agreement that allows it to tap the stock market for up to £25m over three years. It recently drew down £2.4m of that funding. The drawdown arrangement means the board is in control of the process and is under no obligation to use the facility. The company also has cash on the balance sheet in excess of

£8m. It wants to use its cash and the Evolution facility to make acquisitions of similar food extract products. “There could be hundreds of them out there,” explains Mr Moon. Not himself a biologist, Mr Moon has previously worked for Nestlé, and later in his career in business development for GlaxoSmithKline, where he was responsible for negotiating commercial tie-ups. “We would like to have a pipeline of four or five products licensed to big corporates. “We are a small business. “We are very good at research, but when it comes to marketing and sales we need to partner up with bigger firms,” he said.

To advertise here contact Julie Cowley. Telephone 0151 472 2311 or email or Neil Johnson, Telephone 0151 472 2705 or email


INTERNATIONAL TRADE Rainford EMC has worked with a number of companies, including BAE Systems

Hi-tech Mersey company measures sounds of the future for the Far East

Electromagnetic acoustic testing firm set to expand as it breaks into Asian markets A ST HELENS company specialising in large-scale acoustic test chambers has won multi-million pound sales in Asia. Rainford EMC Systems makes and installs shielded enclosures to test products for electromagnetic emissions. The Haydock-based company has won the orders in India and China and three other Asia-Pacific markets. These sales are to build chambers’ shielding steelwork and to source components worldwide for export.

The Asian orders range from £20,000 to £1m and account for 50% of the firm’s business over the last three years. Asian countries’ exports must comply with EU and US legislation for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). This means any manufactured object, from mobile phones to cars, creating electrical noise, can be tested to ensure compatibility. This means they will not interfere with other electrical systems which, at worst, could lead to accidents.

China and India are now also using these standards internally and say they need more testing facilities. John Noonan, Rainford EMC managing director, said: “They buy from us as UK certification is beyond doubt. “No exporter into the West wants costly recalls if its items are incompatible. “We’re selling them something they can’t do themselves, but it’s a tough market. “We’ve been knocking on China’s door for about six years.

“This is where the growth is, as the UK market is saturated. “Although we’re a little company, we get to some strange places exporting our bespoke chambers in a small market.” With 35 direct employees, the firm started as part of a Rainford metal manufacturing company. It has developed the test chambers which cut out unwanted radio waves and internal reflections for a secure electrically quiet environment. UKTI, the UK Trade & Investment body, has advised how

Rainford EMC could tackle the Asian market. The firm was referred to UKTI’s Strategic Alliance Service (SAS) in 2007 for advice following initial discussions with a potential Indian partner. The SAS, funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) gives practical assistance to help companies with complex procedures such as Manufacturing under Licence (MUL), Overseas Joint Venture (JV) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Warrington firm to offer hospitality IT solutions from new Dubai base

WARRINGTON-BASED Agilysys (Europe) is expanding its geography as it opens an operation in Dubai. The hospitality software provider supplies a range of leisure venues, including stadia from Manchester United to Colchester United, and hotels such


as the Dorchester. Its office in the United Arab Emirates will provide sales and support to hotels, restaurants, stadia, sporting clubs and other tourist venues throughout the Middle East. Agilysys customers in the region include Hyatt Hotels, Jumeirah

Restaurants, Al Ain Safari Park and Al Jazira Stadium. Tina Stehle, senior vice president and general manager of Agilysys Hospitality Solutions Group, said: “The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in the world, and we have

expanded our presence significantly in the region during the last five years. “There is a strong demand here for integrated technology solutions that can power hotels, resorts, theme parks, restaurants and other hospitality venues, and our customers

select us for our comprehensive product suite as well as for our knowledgeable staff and our approach to doing business. “We are confident this is the right time to put down roots in Dubai, and we have high expectations for our new office.”

John Hathaway will head the operation as regional manager for the Middle East. He has been with the company for three years and has been responsible for business development, team management and strategic growth in the region.

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Saturn Energy managing director John McShane – says firms have ‘one hand tied behind their backs’

Cameron using CRC as a ‘stealth tax’ Liverpool energy consultancy questions Government’s green commitment

A LIVERPOOL energy consultant claims the coalition Government is falling down on its promises to create a genuine green economy. The managing director of Saturn Energy – John McShane – says that private sector companies expected to lead the economic recovery have had “one hand tied behind their backs” by government changes to its Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme. Prime Minister David Cameron

has told business leaders that the coalition was helping private sector firms create new jobs to replace those lost in the public sector due to government spending cuts. But Mr McShane, whose firm is based in Liverpool city centre, said that, rather than rewarding businesses which cut their carbon emissions, changes to the CRC scheme hidden away in the spending review, had now created a stealth tax which would harm

investment. The CRC scheme requires large energy consumers to monitor and report their energy usage. Businesses were expected to buy carbon allowances to cover their emissions. And those which improved their energy efficiency were to be rewarded with a bonus, as well as the return of their original investment. Now, however, the Treasury will keep all revenues raised from selling CRC allowances, which is

expected to raise around £1bn a year. Mr McShane said the Government was calling on the private sector to lead the recovery, while at the same time tying companies’ hands behind their backs with the changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme. He said: “Companies already reeling from the effects of other government cuts were relying on receiving money back for their energy saving. Now, not only will

they be taxed instead, but the Government is asking them to lead the recovery. “Many companies which invested valuable money and resources into energy-efficiency measures encouraged by the legislation will now be penalised at a time when they need every penny they can get. “The Government can’t expect companies to grow and invest in a green future if it keeps moving the goalposts.”

Airbus set to pioneer bio-fuel passenger flights AIRBUS is to launch what it claims will be the world’s first passenger bio-fuel flights. In partnership with Lufthansa, the move will be a significant step forward towards sustainable aviation. Lufthansa is planning to unveil the world’s first-ever scheduled commercial passenger flights using bio-fuel in the first half of


2011, with an IAE (International Aero Engines) powered Airbus A321 aircraft. The daily flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt will be the first in the world to use a bio-fuel blend made from 50% Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). The daily flights will begin in April, 2011, and will initially continue for a period of six months as part

of the Burn Fair project, to study the long-term impact of sustainable bio-fuels on aircraft performance. When it is consumed, fuel made from bio-mass material emits the CO² it naturally absorbs when it grows, thereby helping neutralise overall CO² emissions. Airbus’s role is to provide technical assistance and to monitor the fuel properties.

Tom Enders, Airbus president and chief executive, said: “Daily bio-fuel flights are a significant step forward in our pursuit of a sustainable future for aviation. “Airbus is bringing together feedstock producers, fuel refiners and airlines.” Wings for Airbus aircraft are made at the company’s site in Broughton, Deeside.

Airbus is joining forces with Lufthansa



Lovell to build green homes Builder buoyant as firm starts work on £2.1m sustainable housing scheme for Wirral BIRKENHEAD-BASED affordable housing specialist Lovell is starting work on a £2.1m energy-efficient social housing development in Wirral. The Wirral Council scheme will create 23 new homes on sites owned by the local authority in Seacombe, Bebington and Prenton. It is going ahead with £1.44m in funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). Lovell, based in John Street, Birkenhead, will build nine two-bedroom bungalows, eight two-bedroom flats, four two-bedroom houses and two three-bedroom houses. The housing development, set to be finished in autumn, 2011, will be managed on behalf of the council by Wirral Partnership Homes. Properties will meet Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, the system for measuring the environmental performance of new housing, making them 44% more energy-efficient than the standards set by current building regulations. In partnership with Build Wirral, Lovell will create a number of apprentice training opportunities for local people. Lovell regional director Nigel Yates said: “Lovell has a wealth of experience in delivering sustainable affordable housing and we are delighted to be bringing our expertise to this development in Wirral. “We also look forward to working with Wirral Council to provide construction apprenticeships through the scheme.” Deborah McLaughlin, director North West at the HCA, said: “It’s great to see work start on building these important new homes. “I’m sure that these highquality new homes will prove popular with local people.” Cllr Chris Blakeley, cabinet member for housing and community safety, said: “I am determined that no part of Wirral should be left behind when it comes to tackling areas with poor housing. “As well as developing some eyesore sites, this work will also see extra apprenticeships created, which is a priority for the council.”

The homes being built by Lovell, in Wirral, will be 44% more energy-efficient than current regulations demand

Agency urges landlords to make energy changes A LIVERPOOL letting agency is urging landlords to be prepared for the Government’s forthcoming energy bill. West Derby-based LUV2LET says the bill is expected to give local authorities the power to insist landlords improve the energy efficiency of the worst-performing private

rented homes. Now it is urging landlords to review their potentially energyleaking properties and be prepared to make necessary insulation changes. The Bill could also see a power allowing tenants to ask for reasonable energy efficiency improvements. LUV2LET director Paul

Massey said: “Although it’s unclear yet what will be specifically expected of private landlords, we’re advising our clients to be one step ahead of the new legislation by considering energy-efficient updates to their properties such as loft insulation and cavity wall insulation, all of which will essentially add value to the

property in the long term. “We have already had tenants enquire about energy saving improvements in order to cut energy bills, but landlords can sometimes be reluctant to pay for work they may not deem necessary.”

Paul Massey – says landlords need to be prepared



Mersey Gateway to riches

New bridge talks to start with Treasury for fine-tuning the funding of construction in 2012 as

OR two men, fate has decreed it will be the project of a lifetime. For everyone else wanting to cross the Mersey at the Runcorn Gap, it will simply make life a great deal easier. The £600m Mersey Gateway project for a new toll-bridge crossing between Runcorn and Widnes looks set to become a reality after decades of indecision. It is also at last being seen as a major strategic asset in the national road network. If all goes smoothly, the construction should begin at the end of 2012, with an opening at the end of 2015. Steve Nicholson, project director, and Cllr Rob Polhill, can hardly believe that they have been given the go-ahead in such troubled economic times. However, they both see investment in the new bridge as a great tool in helping North West regional recovery. The present 50-year-old Silver Jubilee Bridge is operating way over capacity, and relief is desperately needed. Not only that, but it is expected to hugely regenerate the Halton area which has suffered from poor road transport connections. This is in contrast to its neighbour and rival, Warrington, which has benefited precisely from having superb links. The announcement last October by the Chancellor, George Osborne, that the Mersey Gateway bridge would not be axed by the coalition Government, took those involved by surprise. “It was a tremendous relief,” said Mr Nicholson, whose background is in development and procurement for large capital projects. “I’d always predicted that the project had to stand up to scrutiny over several Parliaments. “You never can be complacent with such a big scheme – and I’m still not! “But we’ve overcome the significant challenge of keeping the project on the agenda.” The bridge project was shelved in June, when the Department for Transport (DfT) said it could not guarantee its £83m support for the scheme until after the review. About £22m has already been spent on the project. Funding for the bridge, which will span 0.6 miles (1km) across the River Mersey, will largely be met by the private sector and road user charging. “We knew there would be a delay on a decision until the new Government came in,” said Mr Nicholson. “Also, whatever new government we got, there would always be some uncertainty about whether we’d be successful in continuing. “So cross-party support, which thankfully we have, is essential. “In our favour, the underlying factors meant we had a pretty



Cllr Rob Polhill, leader of Halton Council, left, looks at a study model of the new crossing, with Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway strong case and that’s how it turned out. “The outcome resulted in stronger support. It’s not every day you get the Chancellor himself pressing the virtues of a project in the North West.” Of course, it helps that this Chancellor’s constituency of Knutsford, in Cheshire, is almost on the doorstep. However, Halton Council leader, Cllr Rob Polhill, was equally stunned to hear the Chancellor give the go-ahead and the way in which it was done. “I was watching Andrew Marr’s Sunday BBC Politics Show and George Osborne was talking about the welfare budget cuts. “Then he said it wasn’t all bad news, and the Mersey Gateway was an ‘incredibly important project’. “He added that he wanted to ‘invest in the big infrastructure

projects and investments that are going to help our economy grow in the regions, not just in the south east of England’. “It was fantastic as this is something we’ve been talking about for decades. “It’s a necessity which is vital for the borough and sub-region. This will be an iconic bridge.” The design, by Gifford Chester, is for a cable stayed bridge, whereby cables splay out from three towers to carry the road deck. Beneath it will be a sub-deck which could be adapted for tramway use. “We will make this elegant design available to tendering companies, as the planning permission is based on this. “CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, has signed it off. “We’ve also been very

conscious of ecological concerns, with the importance of the Mersey mudflats for wildlife. “Ultimately, the case for big new infrastructure in the UK can be made in a number of places. “The problems are always about securing the long-term investment,” said Mr Nicholson. “We’re now looking at a twoyear delivery process. “Halton Council always recognised that the cost (and how it was to be financed) to a new crossing was always going to be the biggest barrier to delivery.” Early on, it was realised that tolling would offer significant empowerment to the council. Over the years, it became generally accepted by businesses and residents that tolling was the only possible way, even before the recession. Now public finance means that new revenue streams are

available, including tolling: “Tolling in principle will always be a problem to some, but these are now a minority view,” said Mr Nicholson. “Putting it simply, tolling means a new crossing, but we can be sensitive to local circumstances.” The next move depends ultimately on the Treasury. “They will give us the go-ahead and we hope to start inviting tenders,” said Mr Nicholson. “We’re now into a two-year delivery process to find the right partners for procurement and financing. “The combination of government grants and tolls means we can drive the best deal for public benefit. “That’s now in our gift and control. We’ll now be fine-tuning with Government as to how the funding is achieved. We hope to


– and Halton’s regeneration? Chancellor says he is keen to back investment in ‘big infrastructure projects’

project manager agree the detail by the end of January.” The current Silver Jubilee Runcorn - Widnes Bridge, with its distinctive steel through arch, is being pounded by 80,000 vehicles a day, or around 30m a year. That is eight times higher than its expected 1961 opening flow capacity of 10,000 vehicles. The fact it is still standing must be due to its high engineering spec, build quality – and the amount of money lavished on its maintenance. After being strengthened and widened from two to four lanes in 1975-77, it was renamed the Silver Jubilee Bridge. However, this sheer volume of traffic means it suffers constant repair, and this means delays mushroom across the regional inter-connecting road system as a result. “There are limits to what we

A mock-up of the planned Mersey Gateway, top, with Widnes, left, and existing rail and road bridges can get further from the bridge,” said Mr Nicholson, “either you live with a deteriorating asset and put up with the problems, which are apparent to the 80,000 users on a daily basis. “Or you do something which addresses the downside and adds benefits – the new Mersey Gateway. Now that we have the government contribution, we can keep the toll charges down.” The tolls will be in line with the Mersey Tunnels. “This is the benchmark, which is based on people’s willingness to pay and are therefore acceptable,” said Mr Nicholson. The new crossing will return the Silver Jubilee Bridge to its original local use, and 80% of its traffic will be removed. However, it will be tolled, as to remain a free alternative to the Mersey Gateway would make a mockery of the exercise. The new

crossing will have three lanes in each direction, with the Silver Jubilee reduced to single carriageway, to help restore the flow of bus, pedestrian and cycle traffic. “The Silver Jubilee Bridge started life as a local link, but civil road engineers have constantly funnelled new roads to it as the motorway and expressway network has grown,” said Mr Nicholson. “But this means we already have a very good network of roads ready to serve it. “The new bridge will link the existing Central Expressway in Runcorn to the Eastern Bypass in Widnes, and ultimately connect with Speke Road heading towards Liverpool. “This is vital to allow Liverpool John Lennon Airport to expand and ease its access from Cheshire and North Wales.”

Cllr Polhill said: “We can’t just do nothing, as traffic on the Silver Jubilee Bridge is forecast to grow at 1.2% every year. “Without a new crossing, it would be like ‘rush hour’ all day on the bridge. “Businesses in our area find crossing the Silver Jubilee Bridge makes it slower for them to get to their customers. “Delays are a real concern for the police, ambulance and fire services, and others who deliver emergency services. “The new crossing will make Halton an even better place to live and work. “It will also bring huge benefits for our neighbours in the Liverpool city region, Cheshire and across the North West. “It has been gratifying how supportive surrounding local authorities have been.” Studies have shown the Mersey

Gateway would mean hundreds of new jobs and new opportunities for local businesses, said Cllr Polhill. Further development of houses, shops, offices and leisure facilities is bound to follow. “There will also be opportunities for better public transport links across the river,” said Cllr Polhill. “There are 30% of Halton residents who don’t have cars, so buses are important. “I think it will contribute to better health, as there will be less air pollution caused by traffic congestion.” There are residual concerns by residents living close to the Bridgewater Expressway, in Runcorn. “We understand their concerns and will be doing what we can to minimise the impact of extra traffic,” said Mr Nicholson.



Financial realities no LAF-ing

Liverpool’s Learn about Finance aims to provide students with a life-long lesson in budgeting, NEW education game has been launched by a Liverpool firm that aims to improve pupils’ understanding of finance and enable them to successfully manage their life-long relationship with finance. Keep The Cash! has been created by Learn About Finance (LAF), which was formed by three financial and education experts. Described by Edexcel, the UK’s largest awarding body offering academic and vocational qualifications and testing to schools, colleges and employers as “inspirational, aspirational, future-proofed and a no-brainer”, the game has already been snapped up by Liverpool’s Bellerive College. Head teacher Sister Brigid Halligan said: “I want my students to leave Bellerive with the capacity to build successful futures that must include a clear grasp of finance. “I am delighted that we are the first school in the country to buy the full programme for our students. I am confident that it will be of lifelong benefit to each of them.” Keep the Cash! replicates the range of financial and employment issues that face every young person once they leave home and move towards financial independence. It takes them through writing a CV, attending a job interview, opening a bank account, finding accommodation, paying their monthly bills, managing debt, and understanding concepts like credit and interest rates. The team behind LAF is Sean McGuire, former managing director of City-based FT Financial Markets and head of corporate training at Kaplan UK, one of the biggest knowledge businesses in the world; chartered accountant and financial author Ian Cornelius; and chartered accountant and professional financial education expert Andrew Berkeley. Sean McGuire, who was also chief executive of rugby league giants St Helens, said: “The best way to educate young adults about finance is to forget pointless theory and put them in a set of social situations which would mimic what it is like being an independent adult. “Essentially, where you have got to take decisions about your own spending balanced against your own income and manage the finance that you need on top of that to support it. “By that, I mean there are very few adults in the UK who are wholly dependent on their own salary because there are things like credit cards and overdrafts and mortgages.” He said it took his team thousands of hours to devise a game that would engage 14- to 18-year-olds: “The way that will work best is not to teach them in the orthodox sense because it just



becomes another lesson in school. “So we came up with a table top simulation that puts students into a house.” Pupils are divided into teams of five and taken through the game with an LAF “facilitator”. Their challenge is to work together in order to run their virtual house and its budget. Mr McGuire explained: “ They are left £2,000 from the good old bank of mum and dad and after that they have to paddle their own canoe. “The team have tasks, like give the house a name, and that starts them talking to each other. Within five seconds they are talking. “Four are on job seekers’ allowance and only one has a job and they have to decide who that will be. They have to talk about their aspirations and lifestyles, what they want to do with their lives and how they will fund that. Our society is materialistic, which encourages possessions. So we ask them to grade their holidays on a star basis, with one star being you don’t have one, two to three stars is a long weekend in Southport every other year and 10 stars is the Bahamas and a yacht.” He said students discuss lifestyle choices such as holidays, horses, clothes and cars: “Of course, they won’t be eating at a restaurant because Gordon Ramsay will be coming to cook for them.

“No-one is telling them what to do, because when they do leave the nest, no-one will tell them what to do. They have £2,000 and they think it’s a doddle. “Then we hit them very hard. “The post is delivered to the house. Where does the bad news come from, like overdraft, credit card and bank bills? Through the post and the first post is from LAF Landlords, and gives them a rental agreement of £400 each month and a £400 deposit, returnable provided they don’t trash the place. “Their grins start to fade when they see their £2,000 dwindle to £1,200. “To balance that first message, it’s possible to say to them, ‘how’s the yacht looking, now’? “Then, one gets a pay slip as a trainee shop assistant at LAF Superstores for £12,000 a year. “But the pay slip has £750 in it because there’s something in the UK called tax, and that’s something kids don’t realise. They say, ‘hang on, I haven’t got £1,000’. “We should teach kids that it is their money and the Government is spending it. That would reengage kids in politics. They say: ‘You mean they get the money before I do? What kind of country are we living in’?” He said teenagers should understand the tax system and that there is no such thing as “Government money”. “Then, the Government would

be having the conversation with a tax-literate electorate. “Some kids think you only pay tax if you’re rich, or if you’re over 21, and you don’t have to pay if you’re ‘a bit short’. “So, within 20 minutes they have been introduced to the concept of entering into a contract with a landlord and have also learned about tax and National Insurance and realise that getting money and sustaining a lifestyle is bloody tough to do. They have to realise this because no-one will help them.” Then, shock number two hits the household: “We stop jobseekers’ allowance after a few months to make the point to them that this is not a lifestyle option.” At different points of the game they will get job opportunities, which requires them to prepare a CV and attend a short interview. “They go for jobs and we make it tougher all the time. As soon as we see a spelling mistake on their CV we say, ‘sorry, we don’t think you have prepared for this interview’. “We are very strict because we want them to learn lessons that will be of value to them life-long. Then

Sean McGuire

we ask them why they want the job and what they would bring to the job. “The first thing they say is, ‘I need the money’, when we have to tell them they won’t get the job if they say that. By the second or third interview, they learn the lessons.” The pupils inhabit a “LAF world” where they can be placed in any situation, including the prospect of “LAF cards” which spring on them the kind of surprises you can’t plan for in life, such as car repair bills or damage to the chimney. “People say it’s amazing we haven’t been doing this. Chris Tapp, of (money education charity) Credit Action said: ‘Not teaching kids about finance is like sending them out on a motorway in a Maserati and wondering why they crash’. “People have got to be able to earn money, save and invest, otherwise they are in the bin.” Mr McGuire said LAF was keen to create a completely independent game to provide youngsters with the skills and




Visit St Mary’s

reports Neil Hodgson

Bellerive College pupils playing Keep the Cash!, the educational game created by Learn About Finance

knowledge to make their own choices in life. He said: “It is not a bank, or someone like that telling them what to do. Kids have to be wary of the information they get from institutions like banks. All they are doing is selling their products.” And, in order to continue that support, LAF has set up a website ( which will offer players free life-long access and support. “For example, the website will tell them about APR on a store card. “In the game they have access to credit cards and they suddenly learn the whole concept of interest and that on some products it is far more onerous than others. “They can then apply that knowledge to situations they will encounter and that 4% APR is better than 34% APR. We want these kids to have a revolutionary attitude to building societies and all financial institutions because most people, when it comes to finance, do not have a clue. “Kids think a salary is a lot of cash they get to spend on fun.” He said the game allows pupils to become fully active citizens who understand what their obligations are. “It offers a set of skills that are essential. It’s a financial revolution where young adults are working with finance experts.

“In the course of the game, they can do what they like, such as apply for a loan and decide to turn it down if the interest rate is 50%. “Personal debt is at a colossal level and some of that must be down to sheer ignorance. “We are creating higher levels of expectation in a generation that thinks the bounty is there to be had. We have politicians saying, ‘I wonder how we will get young people to re-connect’? “Well, explain things like this and they will re-connect pretty quickly. “We tell them, you are the Government, you fund the Government. Imagine the change in every voter in conversations with politicians? “The electorate should have the attitude of a manager asking someone to explain how they spent a budget in business. “If we had a tax-literate population, they might say: ‘Hang on, I think we should spend more on social services’.” He said the game could also create employment opportunities for LAF “facilitators” to work with schools and take pupils through Keep the Cash!: “We would love to recruit and train first-class young graduates who have been let down by the system.” And he believes there is potential for international expansion: “All we have to do is translate it and substitute £s for euros.”

Find out what this Crosby school has to offer ST MARY’S College, in Crosby, is an excellent choice for families seeking a first-class independent education for their children. Founded in 1919, the co-educational college has a proud tradition of strong Christian values, academic excellence and encouraging achievement in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. The Catholic school – which offers a number of bursaries and scholarships – welcomes children of all denominations and boasts low pupil-teacher ratios and top-class facilities. These include specialist IT, design and technology and learning resource centres, plus a highly-regarded sixth form centre. St Mary’s impressive academic track record is reflected in the excellent pass rates it achieves at GCSE and A level. However, this is just one part of the all-round education the college provides. It offers a varied music and drama programme, and a wide range of other interests are catered for by around 25 clubs and societies which meet both at lunchtime and after school. The college also provides coaching in a dozen sports and has its own 20-acre playing fields, at nearby Blundell Park. Each year the school gives pupils the chance to travel and experience other

cultures. Recent destinations have included France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and America. All these benefits of a St Mary’s education are easily accessible to families across the area, thanks to the school’s own express transport network. There have been many outstanding success stories in St Mary’s 91-year history. Former pupils include Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, poet Roger McGough and current England swimming star Fran Halsall. College Principal, Mike Kennedy, comments: “St Mary’s is a close-knit, caring community which focuses on the education of young people in the broadest sense of the word. Our aim is to develop confident, rounded individuals who are fully prepared for life and the world of work.” ■ FAMILIES can find out more about what St Mary’s has to offer at the school’s annual Visiting Day, on Friday, January 14, 2011. Entrance examinations will be held on Friday, January 28, 2011.

Challenged to Achieve St. Mary’s College is a thriving community which places a high value on all-round personal development and outstanding academic achievement. Our school is built on strong values which emphasise the importance of caring for others and striving for excellence in all we do. Typically we record pass rates of up to 99% in GCSE and A level and our rich programme of extra-curricular activities equips pupils with the skills and values which will guide and support them throughout their lives.

Visiting Day For a full picture of life at St. Mary’s, please visit our website then come along and see us on a normal working day:

Friday, January 14th 2011 In addition, the Principal is pleased to meet individual parents and prospective pupils by appointment and to arrange a guided tour of the school at work.

Entrance Examination 11+ scholarship examination takes place on:

Friday, January 28th 2011 For an application form, please call 0151 924 3926 or email Sixth Form scholarships also available

The Independent Catholic School for boys and girls of all faiths aged 0-18 0151 924 3926 Registered in England - Company No. 05412328 Registered Charity No. 1110311 St. Mary’s College Crosby Trust Limited. Reg. Office: St. Mary’s College, Everest Road, Crosby, Liverpool L23 5TW




BUSINESS LUNCH Alex Turner enjoys a Spanish sojourn in St Helens, with Bitopia managing director Steve Smith VEN now, in the post-Rafael Benitez era, there are more Spanish footballers in Liverpool’s first-team squad than there were diners in La Casa Vieja on a Wednesday lunchtime. But it is still early days for their lunch menu, launched in September, and the restaurant has been something of a hidden gem in St Helens for many years. If it was located near Liverpool One or around Hope Street, its food would have a fantastic reputation. Instead, although only 100 yards from St Helens Central station, it is tucked away in a quiet street in the town’s grandlynamed Cultural Quarter. It can struggle to get people to understand the quality of its offer – a problem not unknown to the person sat opposite me, Steve Smith, the managing director of Bitopia. “We are working hard on our marketing, making sure people know what we do – how we can help them,” he said. “Our slogan is ‘we use information technology to increase your profit’. Our talent is in converting business requirements into software solutions that make a real difference to the people who use them on a daily basis and following that up with solid support arrangements that ensure its continuous and smooth operation. “Although we specialise in the development of bespoke business software, that’s complemented by a full range of IT support services – from e-mail spam filtering to looking after a company’s entire IT network.” A phrase Steve uses again and again is “technology partner”, and he is happiest when working closely with a company across their IT requirements. Recent internal work saw Bitopia assess its offer and position compared with its competitors. They drew up a two-by-two grid with human and corporate on one axis and technical and commercial on the other. Bitopia was placed in the human and commercial square – the space with the fewest competitors in, which saw the majority placed in the corporate and technical square. Steve wants Bitopia to move even further along the human and the commercial axes, believing that is what companies are looking for. “People do business with people,” said Steve. “And in



our line of work, personal relationships are important because customers need to feel they trust you. “It’s like when you take your car to the garage, people are suspicious that the mechanic is going to try and fleece them because you don’t know what the problem is.” But, just like some people only realise how reliant they are on their car when it breaks down, the same is true for IT. “Some companies are reluctant to pay for support. But it ignores the cost of something going wrong. “Having a few people in an office not getting email for an hour mightn’t be critical, but if it’s a problem with the server or the network then all work might stop. “For some businesses, losing part of their IT system means they lose their ability to trade – and there’s nothing more important than that.” The way companies approach spending on IT is clearly a frustration for Steve, finding he is often battling against a different standard of procurement. “We regularly get told that the quote, which may be for a £20,000 investment in their IT systems, has gone before the board. “But at the same time an admin person is taken on, say on a £12,000 salary, which has to be paid year after year, and that decision is rarely given the same scrutiny.” Appointments are very much on Steve’s mind, as his to-do list included sending out a job offer for a technician. He also carries the mental scars of a previous appointment where it didn’t work out. He said: “I thought I could get a good salesman and he could learn the technical parts, but he couldn’t. “By the time I realised my mistake, we had several customers who had signed up to the unsuitable things and that created a lot of work for us to put right.” That is

La Casa Vieja, St Helens . . . still something of a hidden gem, in the town’s Cultural Quarter partly the reason why Steve finds himself in the difficult position of being in charge of sales while running the business. “Last night, I was still preparing quotes at 2am, and was planning on working later, but I just hit the wall. There are a lot of 16-hour days at the moment.” He hopes, though, that things will settle down soon with the extra member of staff and an internal promotion bringing a new structure to his customer service operation, which he expects will enable him to be less hands-on in that area. But the point at which 39-year-old Steve becomes completely hands-off, and exits the business he founded in 2002, is still some way off. “I know what size I want to get the business to before I step aside,” he said. “In terms of turnover, it’s a long way off but I’m confident we can grow strongly in the next few years. “The last couple of years have been tough, but we have made a number of changes

Steve Smith: running sales – and the business

and we have been working hard on understanding what our strengths are and making sure we are consistent in our message and our delivery.” Customer service is key to Steve, who had just enjoyed what he described as “good karma”. He said: “We were put in a position where one of our large customers had an urgent problem at the same time as another customer who hadn’t taken out any sort of support contract because of cashflow problems. “But their problem was massive for them. “We were really busy with the demands from the large customer and we had to seriously consider whether we could help. We found a way to resolve both problems. “The following day, we got an enquiry from a supplier of the company we had bailed out, who gave us a glowing reference. “Having that relationship, and helping them out when they needed us, has given us a really strong lead.” During our three-hour conversation, Steve polished off the sopa estilo casa vieja – soup of the day, vegetable – although

struggled with his bocadillo de pescado frito, the crispy cod sandwich proving to be too spicy for his liking. I went for the pescado del dia, the catch of the day, which was four beautiful pieces of fish. That was accompanied by patatas con mojo – potatoes in a spicy Canarian sauce – and the Spanish version of ratatouille, called pisto. We washed it down with a couple of bottles each of the Spanish pilsner beer, cruzcampo, then coffee, adding £18.25 to bring the total bill to £45. As we were leaving, Steve’s mobile phone starting ringing, to an upbeat Green Day tune. Things must be pretty good when your ringtone is Time of Your Life.

DETAILS La Casa Vieja 6-12, Bickerstaffe Street, St Helens Tel: 01744 454613 Bill: £45



0151 530 5300

THE BUSINESS LIST Friday, December 17

The monthly Daresbury Business Breakfast brings together around 100 people working for hi-tech companies. The breakfast is at Daresbury Innovation Centre, starting from 8am. For more details, see www.


Friday, December 17 Juice Networking’s Liverpool group’s final meeting before Christmas takes place at Novotel Hotel, Hanover Street from 7am-8.30am. For more details, see

Tuesday, December 21 A full-day course on telephone skills is taking place in Chester. Ensuring that the first point of contact wins over potential client and presents your company in the best light possible is a very important business tool. This course offers a range of techniques which will help develop your telephone skills and make contact with potential clients and existing customers more productive. The course is being held by West Cheshire Chamber and costs £195+VAT for members and £245+VAT for non-members. Visit its website at www. for details.

Wednesday, January 12 Simply Networking is holding its January event at The Noble House, Brunswick Street. It costs £10 and is from 3pm-5pm. To book, see http://

Thursday, January 13 A seminar for self-employed and sole traders about completing the Self Assessment Tax Return online is being held by St Helens Chamber. The free, half-day seminar is being delivered by Linda Smith, from HM Revenue & Customs. For more details, see www. events

Seminar aims to help companies seeking NHS contracts – Daresbury Science and Innovation Centre THE North West has a strong medical technology sector, employing 4,500 people. A seminar at Daresbury Science and Innovation Centre is being held to assist firms bidding for

under-the-radar NHS contracts. It will look at how companies can sign up for free to the Suppliers Registration Portal so they are contacted every time a small contract tender came up.

Thursday, January 13 The Junction 7 networking group is holding its January event at

Opening up new NHS procurement channels, firms can be invited to quote for sub-OJEU tenders from more than 180 NHS Trusts. Hadleigh Stollar, of the NHS Technology Adoption Centre, will also talk about why

there is an underadoption of new technologies in the NHS and what barriers SMEs need to overcome. It will be followed by a structured networking session. Delegates representing

presentations from three businesses. It is at Liverpool Marina & Harbourside Club, Coburg Wharf, Sefton Street, from 12.15pm-2.30pm. It costs £25 for members and £30 for non-members. To book, call 0151 224 1860.

the Ex Services Club, in Rainhill, from 6pm. It will feature the culinary delights of Shokri Azzabi from Chef In Your Kitchen, while Lynda Walkley, of Platt Morgan and Partners LLP, will talk about financial services, and Pam Case, of The PC Support Group, will be offering LinkedIn training. To book, see www.

Friday, January 28

Wednesday, January 19

The Noble House, in Brunswick Street

Fish! Networking, the monthly Ubiquity PR initiative for corporate business and SMEs is being held at the Mediterranean eaterie Sofrito, in Whitechapel, Liverpool. The free event is from 5.30pm-7.30pm. For details, e-mail or telephone 0151 703 0917.

organisations throughout the supply chain will be in attendance. The Daresbury seminar is from 2.30pm-5.30pm. ■ FOR more details, see www.mym-link.

Judith O’Brien, MD of IT Answers

Tuesday, January 25 Liverpool Chamber of Commerce’s December platform lunch will see six-minute

Judith O'Brien, managing director of IT Answers, will examine online advertising and look at how you could use it to great effect within your company. It is the latest in Liverpool Chamber of Commerce’s series of 60 Really Useful Minutes seminars. It is free to members and £5 for non-members and is from 9am-10am. To book, visit



ALISTAIR HOUGHTON Some day you will find me, caught beneath the landslide, in a Champagne supernova in a solicitor’s office WO worlds collided one cold night earlier this month as business bashes competed against each other. While the bosses ambled to Liverpool Chamber's annual dinner, black ties and cummerbunds standing to attention in the icy breeze, I joined the young bucks at Merseyside Young Professionals’ annual Champagne tasting session. I thought I might get there to hear MYP’s members singing the Stone Roses’ She Bangs The Drums – “the past was yours, but the future’s mine”. But it was far more civilised, of course. Up on the boardroom floor of law firm Hill Dickinson’s reallyquite-palatial St Paul’s Square headquarters, a few dozen suited types and typesses mingled nervously, waiting for their taste buds to be tested. I, for one, was worried that my palate would be roundly mocked in front of a roomful of the city’s future leaders. But I needn’t have worried, as we were in the capable hands of Ray Abercromby. Ray is a tax accountant in the daytime, but has a more interesting hobby. Yes, some might say that watching paint dry would be a more interesting hobby than tax


accountancy. But his is really interesting – wine tasting. He reassured us all in his introduction that there were no right or wrong answers when it came to wine -– “Your taste is always right and everyone else's is always wrong”, he said. And then came the tasting. My verdict? Champagne tastes nice. But it wasn’t just Champagne. We had Prosecco and Cava, which Ray insisted should not just be seen as Champagne’s poor relations. And the whole event was kept bubbling thanks to Ray’s dry – and refreshingly plain-speaking – tasting tips. “If you drink cheap supermarket Champagne,” he said, “it'll be like drinking battery acid.” He bemoaned rappers including “Jay Zed and 50 pence” drinking Cristal Champagne when it was too young and not yet fully developed in its flavours. And another leading brand was described as “Like sucking a cardboard box, and that's something you should only do privately, not with friends”. As the evening wore on, I decided to unleash some inner pretentiousness. I tried borrowing a line from Times reviewer Pete Paphides about one bubbly being the “Suede with Bernard Butler of Champagnes”, while another was the “Suede without Bernard Butler of Champagnes”.

A roomful of accountants and lawyers, it turns out, is the wrong venue for a Britpop underachievers gag. And so the night ended with suited types staggering loudly into the night, flapping at taxis or stumbling to city centre pads. And, no doubt, they in turn met diners from the Chamber dinner doing just the same. As The Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. ORE conventional, yet just as welcome, fare was on offer at design studio Smiling Wolf ’s 10th birthday party, at Elevator Studios. Elevator, for those who don’t know, is a huge Victorian warehouse that’s been converted into a network of offices for various musicians and creative types. Smiling Wolf is based on the fourth floor, in a brick-vaulted warehouse conversion overlooking Cains’ brewery. The office is dotted with white shelving units, stocked with the kind of suitably groovy books and magazines you’d expect in a cutting-edge design studio. I spent a while investigating one unit, with a Heinz tomato soup can displayed in what I thought was a Warhol-esque fashion, before I realised I was in the kitchen and it was just a shelf. But at least that meant I was near the beer.


ND a busy month drew to an end at the Echo Arena, with the launch of the new iPhone app for Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green clothing label. The app was designed by the enthusiastic team at Liverpool developer Apposing, and so they took a box at the Paul Weller gig to celebrate. They hoped Liam himself would turn up. As did I. One of the most common questions us hacks get asked is “who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” And my usual answer of “Cheryl Baker from Buck’s Fizz, in an Asda car park in Hull, overseeing the World’s Biggest Fish’n’Chip Dinner”, just doesn’t cut it at parties. But Liam couldn’t make it, so we enjoyed pie’n’spuds as an amuse bouche before the Weller main course. He was great. No Beat Surrender – one of my earliest musical memories, courtesy of a yellow cassette tape free with Weetabix – but any set-list that includes Eton Rifles, Start and The Changingman gets my vote. And, of course, he played Pretty Green, The Jam song after which Liam named his clothing label. It’s hard to imagine many other bashes where a bona fide legend sings your brand name.


Most people drink Champagne from a glass – but, when Jensen Button won this year’s Australian Grand Prix, he did things differently



The arrival of the new year gives everyone the chance to turn over a new leaf, make resolutions and start afresh. This is the case both on and off the field at Everton. David Moyes’ and everyone connected with the Club is looking for an improvement in performances that leads to an ascent of the Barclays Premier League table. Off the field, the announcement of the planning permission being granted for the new development at Goodison means that 2011 is going to be a fantastic and busy year. Nowhere is this more the case than in the Executive Lounges. The new development will include a large fan-focused hospitality lounge and plans are well underway for the packages that will be available and the fit-out of the venue. But in the meantime there is a variety of hospitality lounges available on a matchday starting from just

£70+VAT per person ensuring there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. The 1878 and Blues 100 Suites provide a great arena for both entertainment and networking. Current members are drawn from all walks of business who, along with matchday guests, provide for a lively yet relaxed atmosphere in both facilities. Complimentary drinks with waitress service are included in the price that starts at £225+VAT in the 1878, along with Directors’ Box stadium seats, a glass of Champagne served on arrival and a delicious three course meal. To provide a level of flexibility, the Blues 100 offers a similar package but includes a cash bar and starts from £175+VAT.

JANUARY FIXTURES Tottenham Hotspur 8pm Wednesday 5 January

West Ham United 3pm Saturday 22 January

For more information on matchday packages in the 1878 Suite, Blues 100 or any of the Executive Lounges at Everton, please call 0151 530 5300, email or visit

To book, call 0151 530 5300 or email 41



Chloe Addison and Sam Moore (Pulse Agency, for Boodles) flank Bad Girls actress Alicya Eyo, at last week’s Odeon film premiere, in Liverpool One

Jacqui Henaghan, fundraising administrator, Age Concern Wirral, with Age Concern friendship and befriending co-ordinators Jenny Paton and Rachel Lavin

CAROLYN HUGHES Chloe Addison and Sam Moore (Pulse Agency, for Boodles) welcome Waterloo Road actor Jack McMullen to last week’s Odeon premiere

CLAPPERBOARD Presents hosted the Liverpool charity premiere of Be All and End All at the Odeon Cinema in Liverpool One last week. Directed by Bruce Webb, produced by Bruce Webb and John Maxwell, and written by Steve Lewis and Tony Owen, the dark comedy about two best friends facing up to a grim reality was shot on location in Liverpool. The event sponsors included Boodles, Bermans and Alma Da Cuba. ■ SCARISBRICK Hall and The Drink Cellar of Churchtown worked in partnership to deliver their inaugural wine tasting evening, offering

over 120 wines and Champagnes from small regional producers. The highly experienced team from The Drink Cellar were on hand to serve and advise customers, whether they were looking for a bottle of wine at an everyday price or advice on fine wines for a special occasion. ■ THE Red Door Neighbourhood Bar and Kitchen, in West Kirby, demonstrated their festive community spirit by hosting a Christmas lunch, complete with sherry, in conjunction with Age Concern Wirral last week. Over 30 elderly ladies and gentlemen enjoyed a festive gettogether and sing-along.

Sarah Peet, manager, Red Door, West Kirby, with Lynne Hamilton, fundraising and marketing manager, Age Concern Wirral, at the Red Door festive lunch

Josh Bolt and Eugene Byrne, stars of Be All and End All, are welcomed to the Liverpool One Odeon premiere by Chloe Addison and Sam Moore (Pulse Agency, for Boodles)

The team at Scarisbrick Hall – Suzie Walmsley, Sioban O’Connor, Lynda Headley, Sue and Jade Headley and Rebecca Mathison


David Maddocks, John Siddeley and Nick Ousey, of The Drink Cellar, at the Scarisbrick Hall tasting

Lynne Hamilton, fundraising and marketing manager, Age Concern Wirral, with Malcolm Mottershead, Age Concern Wirral’s business development manager, at the Red Door Christmas lunch



LDP Business Magazine January 2010  
LDP Business Magazine January 2010  

Read the January edition of LDP Business magazine.