news opinion

In Europe 70% of staff have returned to their offices. In the UK, the figure is just 37%

“Get back to work,” exhorts the Government using the wrong words, yet again. The fact is that many people are working perfectly satisfactorily at home and have little desire to restart the daily commute to their office.

Indeed, for some, the productivity gains from working from home are significant. With less disturbance, more can be achieved.

People will return to their office, but it will be a steadily growing trickle, rather than a flood. Employers and employees are understandably nervous and, in any case, social distancing rules prevent the full use of the office space.

Remote working during lockdown has been a success for many businesses. For many staff, this is the work-life balance they always wanted.

Productivity is not about where you work, or even when you work, it is about what you achieve.

• The new Thames Valley 250 is published online this autumn and it shows the diverse range of business sectors in the region.

While tech is massively important to the area, we shouldn’t forget that manufacturing is a key sector, and there are many highly successful and world-leading companies that are ‘making things’ locally.

David Murray Publisher


Top of the Track Thames Valley

Despite the early coronavirus lockdown weeks, Heathrow was still flying high when compared to most of the other large companies in the UK when it came to announcing sales figures for the past year.

It was again top of the pile among Thames Valley-based concerns according to the latest Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100 league table, which ranks Britain’s 100 private companies with the biggest sales. The 19th annual supplement was published as a special Covid-19 edition, highlighting how the UK’s biggest private companies have supported the country during the crisis, how it has impacted their industries and how they are adapting.

Heathrow, 13th in the UK table with sales of just over £3 billion, faced long-term disruption to travel with passenger numbers down 97% in May. With a staff of nearly 8,000, it cut a third of its managerial roles and launched a voluntary severance scheme for frontline staff in June.

The airport became a vital hub for medical supplies coming into the UK during the lockdown, and chief executive John Holland-Kaye led calls for a global standard in health screening at airports.

But plans for a third runway suffered a blow in February when the High Court ruled that the Government had not adequately considered the Paris climate agreement when approving the expansion. The company is appealing the decision in the Supreme Court.

The Reading technology distributor Westcoast, which over the years has been something of an ever-present in profit and sales league tables, proved 2020 was no exception with another top 20 placing (sales of £2.7b earning 18th position in the UK).

Founded in 1984 by chairman Joe Hemani, who still has a 100% shareholding, the firm employs nearly 1,500 people and sells everything from desktop PCs and notebooks to software, printers, spare parts and consumables.

Sunday Times Top Track 100

Its more than 14,000 customers include retailers, dealers and resellers in the UK, Ireland and Europe, to which Westcoast also provides credit, marketing and logistics services.

As the coronavirus took hold, it says it saw “unprecedented demand” and began to prioritise NHS orders. It made sure its warehouses were at full operational capacity.

Thames Water, the UK’s largest water company headquartered at Reading, supplies 2.7 billion litres of drinking water and recycling 4.4 billion litres of sewage for 15 million households across London and the Thames Valley.

Owned by a consortium of investors, with Canadian pension fund Omers the largest shareholder, it is investing £1b to improve services and infrastructure, and is offering flexible payments for customers financially affected by the pandemic.

With some 6,000 staff, the last year saw sales of £2b to gain third place in the region and 29th nationally. Sarah Bentley will become chief executive in the autumn, joining from Severn Trent Water.

The Woking-based automotive technology group McLaren made 42nd place with sales of £1.4b. The company designed and built the lightweight trolleys that medical ventilators for the NHS are fixed on, as well as some components.

It comprises three divisions: Automotive which develops supercars; Racing which owns the Formula One team; and Applied which develops software and components.

Former Diageo boss Paul Walsh joined as executive chairman in March, when McLaren raised £300m from shareholders. It plans to cut 1,200 jobs — a quarter of its workforce which did total nearly 4,500 — and recently secured £150m in further funding.

A third Reading group making the chart was WSH (81st), the hospitality services provider, which recorded sales of £933m. Benugo and BaxterStorey are among the


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