We are delighted that our company was the subject of the lead article in the Daily Telegraph Business Club this week. Please find a full copy of the content below.
Fixing roads to keep the economy in the fast lane
Toppesfield, the fast-growing road builder, is coming to a motorway or A-road near you
Matthew Pryor is on a mission to fix the nation’s potholes. He runs Toppesfield, the fastest growing road-resurfacing company in the UK, which has doubled in size for two years running.
“Surfacing may not be the most glamorous sector,” he says. “But the UK’s road network is crucial, not just for consumers but to make sure that goods and services can get around freely to the right locations.”
According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, 5,700 road closures were logged by Highways England last year due to potholes, which cause damage to cars every 11 minutes. “There was a huge problem, which local authorities and the Government have worked to solve,” says Pryor. “Better products and better maintenance will now stop the potholes coming out when temperatures drop and wet weather arrives this winter.”
The Government has pledged to spend £11bn on building and improving roads through Highways England over five years. “There’s a massive impetus from the Government to improve our network,” says Pryor. Highways England predicts that for every £1 it spends on 112 individual road schemes over the next five years, it will deliver £4 in economic benefit.
Toppesfield won’t do badly out of road-building, either. It is set to boost revenues from £80m this year to £110m through contracts such as the multi-million-pound M1 Junction 19 improvements and A421 dual-carriageway conversion near Milton Keynes. Toppesfield is also tendering for a contract to build a new road between Cambridge and Huntingdon and a link between the M1 and A5.
“A lot of our work is road maintenance but we’re also hoping to be involved in some new road schemes as well,” says Pryor. “At the moment, there are also a lot of road widening schemes, as the Government tries to ease traffic in congested areas.”
Pryor invests £5m a year in new plant and machinery to ensure that roads are built using the latest technology. “There’s a lot of research and development in roads,” he says. “We have learnt a lot from our suppliers in Europe where there is a lot more extreme weather.”
Most of Toppesfield’s machinery is sourced from Germany and the company has strong relationships with suppliers across the Continent.
Growth at the company has been accelerated by Toppesfield’s ability to meet fast turnarounds. “Three years ago we won a contract in the West Country,” explains Pryor. “We were told we had the work on May 1 and had delivered by the third week of May.” That year, the Highways Agency gave Toppesfield £11m-worth of work on that network, which rose to £22m the following year.
Toppesfield’s success is down to its modern take on customer service, according to Pryor, who founded Toppesfield with £10,000 borrowed on a credit card after 20 years working in the asphalt and quarrying industries. “This sector had a pretty poor reputation and I was confident I could do better,” he says.
Toppesfield sources its asphalt, which is essential for building roads, from local suppliers, while most rivals prefer to source from a single factory. “We’re independent so we can use up to four suppliers for one project, which helps when you’re working within tight time constraints,” says Pryor. The company buys in 1m tonnes of asphalt a year.
It is an approved sub-contractor, with the likes of Balfour Beatty and Skanska and these “tier one” companies now including the firm in long-term maintenance contracts, ensuring a steady revenue stream.
This has prevented Pryor from seeking government contracts directly, although he is aware that the public sector has a target to devolve 25pc of its procurement spend to small and medium-sized firms. “We know our place,” he says. “We have good relationships with the tier ones that we wouldn’t want to put at risk.”
The greatest challenge the company faces at present is hiring skilled staff. Road building has issues with an ageing workforce, Pryor explains, so Toppesfield has been actively recruiting young people into the business. The company spends around £500,000 a year on training programmes and recoups none of this overhead from the Government. Toppesfield currently employs 150 staff.
When Pryor launched Toppesfield 11 years ago, the company started out building car parks and playgrounds for local authorities and retail clients.
Over the past decade the business has diversified into maintaining large sections of the UK’s motorway network, as well as signing contracts with airports and even the Olympic Park.
While much of the company’s growth is tied to the Government’s pledge to fix roads, Pryor claims that Toppesfield is agile enough to adapt. “We managed to grow throughout the recession by spotting opportunities,” he says.
“If the Government wasn’t spending money on roads, we’d find the people who were spending money, whether it was in retail, housing, or industrial parks.
“Wherever the work is, that’s where we’ll be focused.”
This article previously appeared on the Telegraph, link is here
Please note that the original print edition of this article stated that Toppesfield had been awarded contracts to build a new road between Cambridge and Huntingdon and a link between the M1 and the A5. This is not the case and has been altered in the online version (above).