business focus opinion

In these times of huge uncertainty, when we are buffeted by Covid, Brexit, Trump and yet more, some business sectors have been shouting for attention, but have largely been ignored by governments across the world

While there has been, quite rightly, a focus on hospitality, and how to help that sector as Covid has struck numerous times, the events industry has gone unnoticed despite the multi-billion size of the sector. Of course, the Government doesn’t want to see wholesale closures of pubs and restaurants, but the global events sector has received no support whatsoever.

Exhibitions, trade shows, conferences, corporate dinners and other industry events make up this sizeable sector. It has been mothballed for nearly a year, with little or no guidance from the Government about when or how it can safely reopen.

Social distancing has put paid to many events, even outdoor ones. As I write this, we are in a severe lockdown at the height of the pandemic, so it seems unlikely that social distancing rules will be relaxed in the near future.

Planning ahead in these choppy waters is almost impossible. Even with a mass vaccination programme, there is little likelihood of major events taking place much before the summer 2021. The Government needs to recognise the grim reality facing this sector, and help to preserve the events industry, and the many thousands employed therein.

David Murray Publisher


On the top track 250 Thames Valley

The Thame-based group Travelodge has retained its title as the leading mid-market private company in the Thames Valley when it comes down to sales figures. Its total sales in the latest UK table were almost £728 million, giving an operating profit of £173 million.

The budget chain topped the region’s listing for the third year running in the Sunday Times PwC Top Track 250 league table, taking third place overall in the UK chart which featured accounts mainly from 2019 before the pandemic.

After opening its first hotel in 1985 in Staffordshire, Travelodge now operates more than 590 hotels in the UK, Ireland and Spain. Lockdown forced most to close from March, but some remained open to support NHS staff and key workers. More than 8,000 staff were furloughed before reopening began in July.

The group is owned 50-50 by institutional investors and management. Under chief executive Peter Gowers, it agreed temporary rent reductions in June and secured £100m of new funding to help position itself for recovery.

Sophos, the Abingdon-based security software and services specialist, gained second place in the region (10th in national table) with sales of £649m which gave an operating profit of £48m.

The firm protects more than 435,000 enterprises in 150-plus countries from cyber-threats. It has helped customers, including government and healthcare organisations, to secure their remote operations and defend against cyber-scams during the pandemic.

Founded in 1985, Sophos was delisted last October when it was acquired by the San Francisco-based private equity fund Thoma Bravo for £3 billion. With almost 3,000 staff under chief executive Kris Hagerman, it has been expanding free access to help protect remote workers.

Third place in the region was taken by the Reading-based CH & Co Group (23rd in UK) with sales of £502m which saw profits of £32.4m.

The catering company – which holds a royal warrant. – was founded in 1991 and last year had a staff of 9.500, normally supplying workplaces, schools and livery halls; during the pandemic it provided mobile catering at two field hospitals.

Chief executive Bill Toner sold a 40% stake for an undisclosed sum to Equistone last year. Some 4,800 staff was added by acquiring Mitie Catering and Company of Cooks last September, and Vacherin in February.

DCS Group (82nd in UK), the consumer goods manufacturer and distributor based at Banbury, has increased production of hand sanitiser by 400% at its Stratford-upon-Avon factory. Moving to a 24-hour operation, it now makes 1.5 million bottles a week of its Enliven brand, which is used by the NHS and emergency services. The group also supplies 50,000 retailers through 200 wholesalers with health, beauty and household brands.

Founded in 1994 and still led by founder and chairman Denys Shortt, DCS opened a £2m factory in Redditch in July. With a staff of 365, sales last year totalled almost £231m with profits of £5.3m.


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