Clark overtakes Grampian to be biggest firm

ARNOLD Clark has toppled Grampian Country Foods to become Scotland's biggest private company and the 11th biggest in Britain, according to new research published this weekend.

It is understood that Ineos, the Hampshire chemicals manufacturer, will be named Britain's biggest private company in a list of the top 100 produced by accountancy firm KPMG and Fast Track, a research company.

Ineos, which has sales of 18bn and 14,500 staff, has operations in 17 countries, and main shareholder Jim Ratcliffe is believed to have a personal wealth of 3.3bn.

John Lewis, the department store chain, takes second spot for a second year after being beaten to the top position in the previous three years.

Now in its sixth year, the table ranks Britain's 100 biggest private companies by revenue. The top 100 generated combined sales of 118bn and directly employed more than 871,000 staff, representing around 10% of GDP and 3% of the UK workforce.

Famous names on the list include Sir Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic, construction equipment maker JCB, food retailer Iceland, and Sir Philip Green's Arcadia and Bhs.

Most of the companies in the league table are based in London (28) while the south-east of England has 22 and nearly a fifth are headquartered in the Midlands (19). Other regions are as follows: north-east (7), north-west (6), south-west (5), east (4), Wales (2) and Northern Ireland (1). Scotland is listed as having six, although this includes House of Fraser, actually headquartered in London.

The Scottish league table is completed by construction company Miller Group, tyres and exhaust firm Kwik-Fit and Murray International.

Craig Anderson, head of KPMG Scotland, praised the country's league table stars: "A full spectrum of businesses, across all sectors, is represented in this year's Top Track 100.

"This shows there is the opportunity to succeed in any field, ensuring life in the business arena is interesting and full of potential. I'm delighted to see successful operations from this region, such as Arnold Clark Automobiles and Miller Group, claiming their place among the cream of the UK's private companies."

Sir Arnold Clark started from a single shop in 1954, but his company now has more than 140 outlets nationwide. Still under the control of its founder, the company had its best year in 2006, with sales climbing to almost 1.9bn.

The company is now set to open one of Britain's biggest car showrooms, a 10m, 10-acre dealership in Staffordshire.

House of Fraser enters the table for the first time at number 50, after it was bought for more than 350m last year by Icelandic private equity investor Baugur and Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's richest man. The company operates 61 outlets nationwide, including Jenners, the Army & Navy Stores and Beatties.

Chief executive John King recently oversaw House of Fraser's best Christmas trading, which came despite the closure of its two biggest London stores, Dickens & Jones and Barkers.

Murray International, listed at number 76, makes a new entry to the Top Track 100, with sales at the Edinburgh-based conglomerate doubling to 538m in two years amid buoyant conditions in its core metals markets. The company operates in sectors ranging from mining to call centres and even winemaking.

Fast Track is run by its founder, Dr Hamish Stevenson, who is also an associate fellow of Templeton College, Oxford University.