Property owner Buccleuch warns of economic pain to come but finances in rude health

Buccleuch, one of Scotland’s largest property owners, has warned that challenging conditions are likely to persist despite it bouncing back to a full-year operating profit.

Accounts for parent company MDS Estates reveal an underlying operating profit of just over £4.47 million for the financial year to the end of October 2021. That compares with a loss of more than £6.8m the year before.

Group turnover jumped to a little over £93m from about £48.7m previously.

Executive chairman Benny Higgins said: “Despite the distinct challenges brought by the global pandemic over the last couple of years, Buccleuch is faring well. This [operating profit] is a marked improvement on the previous year and one Buccleuch’s strategy aims to replicate over the coming years.

“Each of Buccleuch’s diverse enterprises performed well in often difficult and testing circumstances.”

While a profit after tax of £37m was reported within the latest accounts, this was said to primarily reflect an accounting requirement to revalue rural property assets on an annual basis, rather than underlying performance.

Former Tesco Bank boss Higgins said the challenges of the past two years were now being followed by an uncertain economic outlook due primarily to “extraordinary” national and international circumstances, which may well continue for some time.

“We will tread cautiously as we navigate the global effects of inflation and interest rate rises, conscious that these will have an impact on our colleagues, customers and communities,” he said. “We are able to do so from a position of financial strength and this will help inform our choices to allow Buccleuch to build on this solid platform.

Chairman Benny Higgins: 'Despite the distinct challenges brought by the global pandemic over the last couple of years, Buccleuch is faring well.'

“Our commercial property enterprise significantly contributed to the overall profit this year, with the team being well positioned to monitor and react to emerging market trends. The long-term outlook adopted by this enterprise continues to stand the business in good stead.

“Our agriculture and forestry enterprises saw the benefit of higher-than-anticipated livestock and timber markets. The storms which hit the UK at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 were also unanticipated, however, the aftermath will likely impact on the financial performance of Buccleuch’s forestry enterprise within the financial year ending October 31, 2022.”

The accounts also showed a rise in the company’s net asset value to £304m from £268m a year earlier.

Higgins said Buccleuch continued in its commitment to communities and the environment through a variety of initiatives, such as peatland restoration, woodland planting and renewable energy, in addition to smaller contributions such as species protection and local biodiversity projects.

Higgins, who succeeded the Duke of Buccleuch as chair, added: “Buccleuch’s investment in holiday accommodation on the Queensberry and Borders Estates in the south of Scotland benefited from the increase in ‘staycations’. This was also reflected at Dalkeith Country Park, where facilities attracted a healthy increase in visitors.”

The company said It supported the outcomes within the Scottish Government’s national performance framework, aimed at developing and improving community life and the well-being of children and young people, while at the same time “actively contributing” to culture, economic growth, environmental management, fair work, education and health.

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