Seven Plymouth businesses tipped for big things in 2021
Babcock, Princess Yachts, The Range, British Land and more are all raring to go bigger and better and leave a lasting mark this year
The year 2020 was a tough year for business, with coronavirus scuppering a year of prosperous trading for small and big employers alike in Plymouth and beyond.
Millions went on furlough as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and many firms had to adapt - fast - in order to survive the economic downturn.
But all was not lost - some of our most recognisable brands pulled out all the stops to survive the worst of the storm.
Now some of those big lucrative names that help bolster our city's status - not least The Range and Princess Yachts - have revealed what they hope to achieve in 2021. And the good news in short is many are hoping to grow, spend, give local people more work and bring back the good times.
Here's a rundown of all the companies eyeing up the prize over the next 12 months.
Babcock International Plc
Ready for the year ahead - Will Erith heads up Babcock's marine divison (Image: Matt Gilley/Plymouth Live)
There were big changes at the defence and engineering giant, which operates Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth, in 2020 and the new year will be no less important.
The company went through a gruelling time during Covid hit 2020, and in November announced it had seen profits fall by more than £100million blaming the coronavirus pandemic and the decline of civil aviation.
The engineering titan, which also operates the huge dockyards at Rosyth in Scotland, experienced a 9% dip in underlying revenue and a 43% drop in underlying profit for the six months to the end of September 2020.
The company, which had scrapped its dividend in April and is not reinstating it due to “continued uncertainty around the impact of Covid-19”, revealed underlying revenue fell from £2.458billion, between April and September 2019, to £2.244billion in the same months this year.
Underlying operating profit plummeted from £250.6million to £143.1million over the same half-year period.
But in Plymouth its £600million project to refit and extend the life of Britain’s fleet of Type 23 frigates continues with five ships being worked on at one time at Devonport as 2021 began.
Aside from surface ship work, Babcock also has submarine contracts at Devonport, and in 2021 is due to begin an extensive refurbishment project which will begin with a two-year programme to redevelop a dry dock for nuclear submarines.
More than 600 construction jobs will be created during the rebuilding of the 10 Dock Facility, and there are further improvements planned to other areas of the naval base and dockyard.
Four new Dreadnought-class missile submarines, which will form part of the UK's nuclear deterrent programme, will enter service in the early 2030s. They will replace the Vanguard-class submarines, becoming the largest submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy.
Babcock also has new faces at the helm, with David Lockwood appointed chief executive, followed by David Mellors as chief financial officer and, in Plymouth, Will Erith heading the Marine sector, which manages the two dockyards.
Princess Yachts' X80 skylounge (Image: Princess Yachts)
The UK’s largest yacht maker is expecting another exciting year in 2021, with new products such as the X80, which will be due to launch in the Autumn.
The vessel is the sister boat of the new X95, which has been undergoing sea trials off Plymouth, and is the second model in the new Superfly family.
The X80 has been developed to offer a “unique boating lifestyle” that is tailored to how each owner wants to use the yacht. It has a “super flybridge” providing in excess of 30% more useful interior space on-board than a traditional flybridge yacht of its length. It is also available with optional main deck master stateroom which includes private owner's sundeck.
Princess Yachts X95 in all her splendour in Plymouth (Image: Princess Yachts)
Princess Yachts, which employs more than 3,000 workers in the Ocean City, has stressed its “aggressive investment strategy”, and the company’s record financial position and full order book, are the reasons it has been able to create such high-spec new yacht designs.
The company began returning to production in early May 2020, after weeks in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is now working on fulfilling its order book for 2020 and 2021.
Real Ideas Organisation
The UK’s first video dome building received nearly £400,000 from the Government in 2020 and is set to open in the new year.
The Immersive Dome is being created in Plymouth as part of the redevelopment of Devonport Market Hall into a £7.4million tech business centre.
It is due to open in 2021 as a “world-class space for creative, digital and immersive experiences” and will position a 15m diameter, 210-degree dome in an extension next to a redeveloped 19th Century building that will house new creative enterprises.
The grants come from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England as part of a national programme.
The Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), which has already successfully refurbished Devonport Guildhall, will receive £394,135 towards the near-completed redevelopment of the 166-year-old Devonport Market Hall so it will connect communities with new creative enterprises, help to develop future-facing skills and jobs, and will feature the first immersive dome of its kind in Europe.
Meanwhile, a new vegan bakery is to open inthe former bakehouse space inside the Grade I-listed Devonport Guildhall.
Former Western Morning News journalist Kate Langston and her partner, experienced baker Sam Dennis, have taken over the bakery space, in what was once a mortuary inside the historic guildhall, vacated when the artisan Column Bakehouse business closed in August 2020.
Wealth - Chris Dawson and his wife Sarah have amassed a mammoth fortune (Image: Richard Austin)
Retail magnate Chris Dawson saw his The Range empire grow sales to nearly £1billion as turnover leaped 6% for the year to February 2020.
Sales increased from £942.679million to £999.972milion, due to an increased number of stores and fixed costs remaining static, and the firm remained unfazed by the prospects of Covid-19 and Brexit.
The retail juggernaut opened 20 stores in 2019/20, also seeing gross profits increase by 9% to £386million from £355million.
Mr Dawson, who began his empire from a market stall, stressed the firm would continue to grow The Range chain and “provide customers with value-for-money shopping” and he said: “The group is optimistic about the future.”
He predicted that 2020/21 will see “further significant growth in sales”. And the Covid-19 crisis will not stand in its way, He wrote, in November 2020, that: “The Covid-19 pandemic will naturally present internal challenges in addition to the wider economic impact that is being felt.”
But he stressed: “As a value retailer the group as a whole is in a strong position to withstand these challenges.”
Mr Dawson said that although the pandemic created a “volatile economic environment” all stores, barring "a few exceptions", remained open “resulting in the group being protected from the wider impacts of the worldwide pandemic”.
The company has not needed additional funding and doesn’t expect to need it in the coming year, and Mr Dawson said trading has been strong throughout the pandemic, even opening three new stores and amassing healthy cash reserves.
The company has also taken steps to mitigate any impact from the UK’s final Brexit from the European Union, in January 2021.
All eyes will be on property giant The British Land Company Plc after it made a half-year after-tax loss of £730million as the coronavirus pandemic cut retail sales and footfall in its shopping centres.
The company, which announced a £1.1billion annual loss in May 2020, has now seen underlying profit fall by 29.6% to £107million and dividend per share fall from 15.97p to 8.4p.
It has been hit by the impact Covid-19 and national lockdowns have had on retail across a huge portfolio which includes the Drake Circus Shopping Centre and neighbouring The Barcode leisure complex in Plymouth. The company also owns a huge area of the city centre including the block which contains the House of Fraser and Debenhams department stores.
In September, British Land was only able to collect in 62% of the rents due to it nationally for the three-month quarter. The value of its portfolio has dropped 7.3%, with the value of its retail assets down 14.9%.
However, bosses are remaining upbeat and say the company is “more financially resilient” with an “unrivalled pipeline of opportunities”.
It has sold £2.1billion of assets, including £1.2billion of retail property, and said it will be investing proceeds into development opportunities, particularly mixed-use schemes, which include offices.
British Land is still confident in the office sector, despite many firms moving towards having staff working from home, and is also relying on its out-of-town retail parks, which make up 48% of its retail portfolio and have been “significantly outperforming benchmarks”.
Sutton Harbour Group
The Plymouth development company bought two plots of land in late 2020 to enable it to start work on a £50million project to build multiple apartment blocks close to the city’s waterfront.
Sutton Harbour Group Plc completed the purchase of about 1.5 acres of land, for an undisclosed sum described as “at market value”, immediately to the east of Sutton Harbour.
The deal will enable the company to push ahead with its plan to construct six blocks of flats on industrial land next to where it also aims to build what would be one of Plymouth’s tallest skyscrapers.
The AIM-listed company envisages a “residential quarter”, with a combined construction value of more than £50million, created on land between Sutton Road and St John’s Bridge, connected by a walkway leading directly to the waterfront and the company’s previously approved £60million Sugar Quay tower of waterside apartments, shops and restaurants.
That 20-storey skyscraper, granted full planning permission in December 2018, is the subject of a new application, revised to relocate a planned basement car park to facilities at St John’s Bridge.
Meanwhile, SHG is aiming to start work on a nine-storey apartment block, Harbour Arch Quay tower, in 2021 and even start marketing the flats by the spring.
Pre-construction preparations for the scheme, also at Sutton Harbour, have continued in recent months and selection of the construction management team and finalisation of the detailed drawings are in process.
The firm said it is expected that, subject to completion of finance arrangements, work on the 14-apartment, nine-floor building “will start during 2021, with marketing of the units to be launched in the springtime of the new year”.
Plans have also been approved for a walkway and two floating platforms to be installed on Plymouth’s waterfront to screen movies and sports matches and host events such as gigs and even yoga classes.
SHG has been given planning and listed building consent to install the structures at the historic Sutton Harbour, near the Barbican – provided it makes sure they can’t float off if he area floods.
The company wants to build a pedestrian walkway linking the Barbican’s Custom House with Vauxhall Quay and Guys Quay, and two movable floating event pontoons on the water off Vauxhall Quay and in the corner of the harbour near The Parade, in areas too shallow for mooring boats.
The “game changing” £1million robotic Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) was christened in Plymouth exactly 400 years to the day that the Mayflower sailed for America and will sail the Atlantic Ocean in 2021.
The 15m long, aluminium-hulled trimaran, bristling with the latest sensors and AI (artificial intelligence) will set off on a trailblazing voyage from Plymouth to Cape Cod in the USA in the spring of 2021. The vessel will have no-one on board, being piloted remotely from the UK and USA and collecting vital data about climate change, plastic waste pollution and marine mammals.
The MAS project was started in 2016 and has involved input from engineers and scientists in Plymouth, the USA, and Norway.
The modular vessel was built in a shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, when no British shipyard was able to take on the project.
It was shipped in pieces to Plymouth in the early weeks of the coronavirus lockdown and assembled, safely, at the M Subs factory at Estover.
That firm’s daughter company Marine AI created the computer technology that has been installed on board and on land in partnership with global tech giant IBM.
M Subs Ltd secured a £1million Government contract to build a prototype robot sub for the Royal Navy in 2020 and if initial tests of the sub are successful, up to £1.5million more could be made available by the MoD to further test the unmanned vehicle.
Measuring about 30ft in length, the autonomous submarine is significantly larger than other robot subs used for beach reconnaissance, allowing it to operate at a range of 3,000 nautical miles.
Estover-based M Subs had a record £10million turnover in 2019 and has grown from 10 employees in 2010 to more than 60.
The company is recognised as the UK’s leading manufacturer of military submersibles and has already completed a manned platform, the Dry Combat Submersible (DCS), for the United States of America’s Special Forces Command. It completed successful trials in the waters around Plymouth in 2019.