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Hill & Smith's annual profit down

The company continues its reorientation towards overseas operations.

Hill & Smith Holdings, a provider of infrastructure products and galvanising services, has reported a profit of £16.1m for the year ended 31 December 2011, compared to £24.6m previous year.

Due to stronger trading in the second half of the year, particularly from international utilities businesses, total revenue increased by 8.6 per cent to £406.2m in 2011 from £374.2m in 2010.

The company, which generated over 65 per cent of its underlying operating profit in 2011 from its international operations, will now focus on international markets for infrastructure products and on providing galvanising services in the UK, France and the US.

Derek Muir, chief executive of Hill & Smith Holdings, said: “Our businesses produced a robust performance in the second half of 2011, with a particularly strong performance from our international utilities operations.

“While we anticipate the first half of 2012 being stronger than the same period in 2011, the full year's results will depend upon the current momentum continuing in the second half of 2012 in what remains uncertain economic times.”

The company expects that 75 per cent of its profits will be derived from its overseas operations by the end of 2013.

Muir added: “The benefits of our increasingly international profile and our now limited exposure to UK government spend show through clearly in our recent and current performance. We are targeting 75 per cent of profits to come from overseas operations by the end of 2013.

“Encouragingly, the momentum of the stronger trading seen in the second half of 2011 has continued in the first two months of 2012. Order backlog in the utilities sector remains healthy and galvanizing volumes overall are ahead of our expectations. The UK-managed motorway programme is progressing according to plan and should provide a good base for 2013,” concluded Muir.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.