Cook shrugs off the turmoil to boost profits

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Family-owned steel castings business William Cook Holdings increased its turnover and profits in the last financial year, despite the global economic turmoil.

It has also bought a company which makes tracks for British Army military vehicles.

In the year ended April 2 2011, the Sheffield-based company recorded a group turnover of £48.08m, compared with £37.60m the year before.

The company’s full year pre-tax profits rose from £4.10m to £4.73m.

The William Cook group, which is one of the largest steel and engineering firms in Yorkshire, employs 700 staff and has two plants in Sheffield and one based in Leeds.

Andrew Cook, the company’s chairman, has described himself as “a bit of a wild card and maverick”.

The industrialist is thought to be the Conservative Party’s biggest financial supporter in Yorkshire, donating around £750,000 and free flights to David Cameron while the Tories were in opposition.

Mr Cook hit the headlines in 2010 after it emerged that he lobbied the coalition Government against Labour’s £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in May last year, Mr Cook said he had no regrets over the Sheffield Forgemasters affair, other than being pilloried “as the man that wrecked the loan”.

He insisted the loan was politically motivated and should never have been granted.

In a statement to accompany the accounts for the year to April 2 2011, the company’s directors said: “The operating performance during the period has been generally satisfactory, particularly in view of the continuing high cost of raw materials and energy.

“In this difficult environment, the directors are pleased to report increased activity and profits on the prior year.”

In the year ended April 2, the company’s gross profit was £9.99m, compared with £8.72m the year before.

Gross profit margin was 20.8 per cent, a slight fall on the 23.3 per cent achieved in the previous year.

During the period, the group made political donations of £30,131, which is significantly less than the £274,870 recorded in the 2009 to 2010 financial year.

The accounts also reveal that on September 21 2010, the group acquired all the shares capital of Cook Defence Systems for £1.

After the acquisition, Cook Defence Systems contributed turnover of £39,000 and a loss before tax of £119,000 to the group operating results for the year.

On November 1 2011, the group acquired all the share capital of Astrum UK and its subsidiary for £14m, of which £2m is deferred and payable in equal instalments, after one year and two years respectively.

Astrum (UK) is the former William Cook Defence, which was sold to a management buyout team in 2006.

It specialises in the design and manufacture of tracks for military vehicles and is a major supplier to the British Army.

The company is based in Stanhope, County Durham and employs around 200 people.

Commenting on the acquisition, Mr Cook said: “I am delighted Astrum is re-joining the William Cook group after a five-year absence.”

In the accounts, the directors said the most significant risks to the group’s profitability were the increased costs of raw materials and energy, the growing number of statutory regulations, and reduced demand from the group’s main markets.

The report states: “The board has strategies to manage these risks and remains confident of the continued success of the companies within the group.”

Commenting on the outlook for 2012, the directors said: “The directors are confident about the long-term prospects for the group, which is well established and focused on a number of specialist markets, where quality and service have an intrinsic value and significant added value is also provided.

“Careful investment continues to be made where necessary to support or improve the group’s operating efficiency.”

The company said it expected 2012 to be a challenging year due to the global recession.

The report said: “The quality of the group’s products and the service it provides, together with the strength of relationships with customers, are anticipated to produce another satisfactory performance.

“Results to the date of signing this report (December 20, 2011) are ahead of expectations.”

In the last financial year, the group made charitable donations of £15,250, compared with £26,525 the year before.