Stobart overcomes weather challenge

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HAULIER Stobart Group said it was trading well despite Britain’s erratic weather triggering swings in demand from its retail customers.

The group, which runs a distinctive fleet of around 2,500 Eddie Stobart trucks, said the prolonged summer heatwave which followed the coldest spring in more than 50 years caused spikes in retail volumes.

Stobart also announced its fourth chairman in seven months, with former Tate & Lyle boss Iain Ferguson taking up the role in October.

The Carlisle-based group said it had made solid progress in the six months to the end of August, despite the volatile weather.

It said: “Managing unforeseen volatility is challenging, but the investment we have made in our planning systems allows us to meet our customers’ needs.”

Stobart has more than six million square feet of storage facilities, located around major transport hubs across the UK and Europe.

Its estates arm is focused on sales of mature assets, and it is discussing other disposals after selling a site in Warrington last month.

The firm’s air division, which owns and runs London Southend Airport and Carlisle Lake District Airport, is focused on boosting passenger numbers at Southend.

Stobart added that tonnage, revenues and profits are ahead of last year in its biomass business, which sources timber for power plants.

It said: “The board is encouraged by the trading performance in the first half of the year... (and) looks forward with confidence.”

Stobart stoked controversy in January when deputy chief executive Avril Palmer-Baunack was promoted to executive chairman after the abrupt resignation of Rodney Baker-Bates from the post of non-executive chairman.

But Stobart axed the role of executive chairman just two months later, saying it was ‘’no longer appropriate’’ amid improved trading.

Non-executive director Paul Orchard-Lisle stepped up to become interim chairman in May.

Today the group said Mr Orchard-Lisle and Mr Baker-Bates, who has stayed on as a non-executive director, will stand down in due course, although Mr Orchard-Lisle will remain with the group as chairman of its property board.

Mr Orchard-Lisle said Mr Ferguson will bring a “wealth of commercial and governance experience and a deep knowledge of our industry and the markets we serve”.

Mr Ferguson is also chairman of support services company Berendsen and a non-executive director at infrastructure group Balfour Beatty and bakery chain Gregg’s. He was chief executive of sweetener firm Tate & Lyle from May 2003 until the end of 2009 having previously been with consumer goods giant Unilever for 26 years.

He said: “I am delighted to be joining Stobart at a key point in its development.

“With its industry-leading transport and distribution business and its newer, fast-growing biomass and London Southend Airport businesses the group has a fascinating portfolio.”