Great Southern looks lively

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Great Southern, the USM-quoted funeral services group, reported a 19.5 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 6.2m last year despite fewer deaths in Britain. Turnover, at pounds 32.7m, was 10 per cent higher, writes Diane Coyle.

The fastest growing business was pre- paid funerals, with sales up 27 per cent last year. Chosen Heritage, a subsidiary, increased the number of plans sold from 11,000 to 16,000 at an average cost of nearly pounds 1,000. It made profits of pounds 878,000, a 10 per cent rise. The Office of Fair Trading is to begin a six-month inquiry into funeral pre- payment schemes. James Smillie, group chairman, welcomed the move.

The core funeral services business saw a 15 per cent rise in profits to pounds 4.8m. Great Southern added seven branches in 1993. It wrote down the value of properties acquired between 1988 and 1990 by pounds 475,000.

Great Southern's third business, crematoria and cemeteries, lifted operating profits by 41 per cent to pounds 1.9m on turnover up 12 per cent at pounds 5.9m. The 12 crematoria are being upgraded at a cost of pounds 4m to meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act. The shares closed 3p lower at 480p.