The Number rings up the wrong figures

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THE COMPANY behind the 118 118 directory enquiries service, advertised by a 1970s-style athletic duo, made a pounds 17m loss in 2003, its first year of operation.

New documents filed at Companies House show that The Number UK generated sales of pounds 36.5m in 2003 but the costs of setting up call centres and its heavy advertising budget plunged the business into a pounds 17m loss. Chris Moss, the former Orange mobile phone executive who joined The Number as chief executive, was paid pounds 1.7m in the same year.

A spokesman for the company said, however, that costs had been significantly reduced during 2004 and that it had made an operating profit of "between pounds 5m and pounds 10m". No other details on its 2004 trading were available.

The 118 118 business is owned by the privately held US company, InfoNXX, whose largest shareholder is the Tisch family, a clan of wealthy property magnates. The most recent filing shows that the directory enquiries business, which employs nearly 1,000 people, is supported by $50m (pounds 27m) of debt provided by Bank of America, including a $20m loan and a $30m credit facility.

Since BT stopped using the 192 number for directory enquiries in August 2003, call volumes have increased substantially, according to The Number's accounts. The company's spokesman said it now had 45 per cent of the market compared with BT's 35 per cent and was particularly strong in calls made from mobile phones.

The company estimates the UK's total call volume for all directory enquiry services is 1 million to 1.2 million calls a day.