Hi-tech firms are the fastest to grow

Evidence of the spectacular growth many businesses are achieving away from the glare of the stock market is contained in this year's Independent 100 listing of Britain's fastest-growing private companies.

The top three companies - European Telecom, Anglia Telecom Centres and Mobile Systems - in the seventh annual table compiled by the Independent on Sunday in association with the accountants Price Waterhouse, achieved annual sales growth of more than 100 per cent over five years. The Carphone Warehouse, which followed up last year's pole position with fourth place, was close behind, with an annual growth rate of 94.9 per cent.

All four companies are involved in the increasingly closely entwined computers and telecommunications sectors. Nigel Crockford, PW partner responsible for the listing, pointed out that the two sectors - which together account for 46 of the top 100 companies - had become so dominant because of the way technology was changing the way people operated at home as well as at work. But though these two areas are showing the most obvious growth, they are not the only sources of expansion. And while there is a geographical bias towards London and the South-east, most regions are represented.

The listing, which has previously identified now well-known companies such as transport operator Stagecoach, pubs group J D Wetherspoon and the online information provider MAID, includes this year businesses as different as Gatwick Airport-based Cityflyer Express, one of British Airways' franchise operations, taking passengers to European and domestic destinations; retailer and distributor New Look; and Fresh Catch, a Scottish fish processor.

To qualify for the listing, companies must have audited sales of at least pounds 500,000 in the first of the five years of growth (pounds 5m for those in the Middle Market 50, which recognises the achievement of continued growth in larger companies), and accounts for the most recent trading period must show a profit.

Companies applying to join this year's listing had turnover ranging from pounds 1m to pounds 564m, while the average remained at just under pounds 33m. However, the average turnover of the successful 100 was up on last year, from pounds 25.1m to pounds 29.5m.

Mr Crockford also stressed that while many large public companies continued to shed jobs, the bigger companies in the listing increased employment levels from 236 to 241. Altogether, the 124 companies in this year's two tables have created more than 24,000 jobs in the past five yearsn

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