Despite the continued uncertainties surrounding Brexit, lockdown and the continued social distancing restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the H and H Group has again delivered positive results for the year up to June 30, 2020.

The group, which operates four major businesses, including farmstock auctioneers, insurance brokers; land agents and Reed Publishing, revealed an overall operating profit of £742,000, with a profit before tax of £330,000 – up a massive £701,000 on the previous year.

Notably, the group’s livestock trading company, Harrison and Hetherington, produced the best results, according to new chief executive, Richard Rankin. He said the auction marts had been the ‘star performers’ – pulling in 70% of the profits.

“A great team performance ensured the auction markets outperformed the rest of the business which finished ahead of budget and with net assets of £19.4m,” said Mr Rankin.

“Obviously, we all had a bit of a wobble at the start of year with the influx of Covid-19, but our executive team had daily meetings from the beginning of March to prepare ourselves for lockdown.

“Up to 140 members of our 308 staff were put on the furlough scheme, but virtually all have been brought back as demand and activity increased.”

He added that the team had worked hard to ensure that all livestock markets could continue, which coupled with the increased throughputs and rise in the value of all types of stock, had bolstered net profits.

“We have been able to attract new vendors and buyers through a combination of new technology and methods of trading. We have invested a huge amount of money in our online trading system, which we are continually looking at to make it run smoother and more efficient,” added Mr Rankin.

“We need to have an open, transparent and fair system for selling livestock and while everyone is keen to get back to the live auction system, I can also see the benefits of timed online sales for specialist, pedigree marketing when it gives people more time to decide if they want to bid again.”

Unfortunately, Mr Rankin believes the social restrictions in place as a result of the pandemic, are likely to continue for at least another six months, which will affect two major events at Borderway Mart, Carlisle.

The Agri-Expo in November, has already been cancelled, while the UK Dairy Expo in March, is heading in the same direction and is likely to be replaced with a series of topical industry webinars.

However, while the H and H Group retains a strong asset base, no final dividend has been recommended as the Board remains intent on ensuring strong financial governance is in place across the Group.

Instead, it remained focussed on its responsibility to secure cash flow and build long-term value in the current economic climate.

Mr Rankin added: “During an unpredictable and fluctuating year, the group managed to continue to invest and perform relatively strongly.

“Despite hard-earned gains almost being wiped out by one bad debt, indirectly linked to Covid-19 halting the restaurant meat trade, Harrison and Hetherington’s auctioneers still adapted seamlessly to new restrictions.

“This meant finishing the year ahead of budget and managing to deliver record trading volumes in Q4.

“There are still plenty of opportunities to develop our existing business especially online, and the brand has continued to grow and strengthen in terms of sales and its reputation for expertise in the sector, particularly around development and delivery of new technology.

“This is an important asset for us to build on. We are in an ideal strategic position to respond to the needs of both digital and physical marts, and, going forward, our aim is to build on the successes of the online pedigree cattle, sheep and machinery sales that have already taken place.

Commenting on H and H Land and Estates, he said the land agency and property business, had been impacted considerably as a result of Covid-19. However, significant losses and jobs were protected by the government’s furlough scheme.

Since reopening, property sales and lettings have picked up, largely driven by both the Stamp Duty holiday and the dramatic increase in demand for farms, land and rural homes following the nationwide experience of lockdown.

“Obviously, after the difficult year we had last year, seeing us finish above the line while coping with a global pandemic is more than reassuring.

“I am confident that our pivot towards the future is strengthened by the diversity of our businesses, the agility we’ve developed and will be made possible by the tremendous and proven tenacity of our teams.”