CARLISLE-based leading auction and rural services firm H&H Group has recorded hard-earned profits in what was described as a 'tough year' due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The group saw an overall operating profit of £742,000, with a profit before tax of £330,000, in its yearly results up to June 30, which is up £701,000 from the previous year.

The business, which includes the UK’s largest livestock trading company, Harrison & Hetherington, said it was pleased to deliver a positive set of results during what had been a challenging and unpredictable year.

The auctioneering side of the business had adapted well to Covid-19 restrictions, finishing the year ahead of budget and with record trading volumes in the final quarter, said Richard Rankin, H&H Group’s chief executive.

But he acknowledged that some hard-earned gains had almost been wiped out by one bad debt of £236,000, arising from a meat trading company that was hit badly by the closure of the restaurant trade during lockdown.

"There are still plenty of opportunities to develop our existing business especially on-line, 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," said Mr Rankin.

However, the print, signage and graphic design of the business, H&H Reeds, was dealt a blow due to the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the team reacted by refocusing on delivering Covid-19 signage to local businesses and government,added Mr Rankin.

H&H Insurance Brokers has seen a fall in its top line, but cost-saving measures have been implemented and a new commercial director appointed to broaden market opportunities.

"The Commercial Director will be responsible for broadening market opportunities and developing collaborative services and products with cross-selling potential. This is already seeing wins and a return on this investment," said Mr Rankin.

H&H Land and Estates had also been affected significantly during lockdown, but since the easing of restrictions and the announcement of the stamp duty holiday, sales and lettings have both picked up.

"Our land agency and property business, has been impacted considerably as a result of COVID-19, however significant losses and jobs were protected through the furlough scheme. Working remotely, the teams continued to work and manage all business including completions,"said Mr Rankin.

He added: " 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. Senior management will now use this opportunity to reflect on the business and draw up a new strategic plan for 2021 and beyond.

"We continue to look at opportunities to grow our existing businesses and develop further profitable turnover. We also look to take a more active role in the rural economy, utilising our brand, reputation, expertise and heritage in the market to help bring about positive change and support to all the livelihoods dependent upon this sector."

The firm, which employs over 300 members of staff operating across the North of England and Scotland, has said that for 2020 no final dividend has been recommended, as it is important in the current climate that it focuses on securing cashflow and building long-term value.However, its 1,100 shareholders were paid an interim dividend of 5p/share earlier in the year.