2017 was a difficult year for UK business; political uncertainty and the fallout from the Brexit vote meant business confidence being undermined and a decrease in consumer spending for the majority of the year.
However, it wasn't all bad; the vast majority of industries still saw some overall growth; the highest of which was in the education and transport and storage sectors, increasing by 15.4% and 17.7% respectively. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) noted that business growth actually picked up rapidly during the final few months of the year, giving weight to the theory that the economy is getting back on track as we head further into 2018.
While SMEs made an impressive £1.9 trillion combined by the end of the year, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the country's biggest companies are still bringing in the eye-watering sums of money. Data collated by business intelligence provider Global Database shows the 50 highest earning companies operating within the UK in 2017, and there are plenty of surprises. Alongside the household names you'd expect to feature; the likes of Shell, Tesco and HSBC for example, there are those that are much less obvious. An airline in fifth place that you may never even have heard of, and a telecommunications company that made over £30 billion, despite being just two years old - proof that age isn't always the best indicator of success.
So, without further ado let's take a look at the highest earning companies operating in the UK in 2017...
Oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell saw over £187 billion in turnover during 2017. The company also acquired First Utility at the end of the year, meaning they're now set to supply energy to around 825,000 UK households from the end of February onwards. While the cost of the deal was undisclosed, experts suggest it probably fell in the region of £200-£300 million. Last year also saw the company branch out into new niches, including the purchase of two electric car infrastructure companies.
As one of the world's seven oil and gas 'supermajors' it's no surprise that BP features so highly on the list. The company, headquartered in London, has certainly had its share of bad luck in recent times; the 2010 oil rig explosion cost them deeply in both finances and reputation. It's only now, almost a decade later that the company is getting fully back on track - 2017 saw a turnover of £141 billion.
The financial services company pulled in £78 billion in 2017. The company, headquartered in London, is potentially set to increase turnover within the next few years by capitalising on its growth in the US insurance market.
The British financial services company, founded in 1848, revealed its plans last year to combine its UK and European businesses in a bid to cut costs. In the meantime, the company turned over £72 billion in 2017.
The banking giant, whose main offices are in London's Canary Wharf, saw a turnover of £60 billion in 2017. The company is set to review its global media planning and buying account this year, estimated to be worth around £286 million, so it will be interesting to see how any changes to its marketing efforts affect its figures in due course.
The supermarket giant, set to celebrate its centenary this year, turned over £56 billion in 2017 - not bad for a retail outlet that started life as a few market stalls.
The insurance provider enjoyed a turnover of £55 billion in 2017. The company remains the largest investment manager of UK pension fund assets, and is also amongst the largest providers of auto-enrolled pensions in the UK, currently having over 2.2 million clients.
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The British company is the largest insurance provider in the UK, and saw a turnover of over £55 billion in 2017. They've come under fire from customers recently for problems with their Aviva for Advisers platform - not a great way to start the new year.
Formerly known as CGU International Insurance, the Aviva Group Holdings subsidiary provides life and general insurance services to customers worldwide. With a growing market in the US, the company saw turnover of £51 billion during the past year.
The company, which also owns Halifax and HBOS, is the UK's largest retail banking group. It saw revenue of £48 billion in 2017, up from £39.6 billion on the previous year.
The company, headquartered in London and with operations in Kazakhstan and Hong Kong, has only been in business for seven years, making 2017's £48 billion turnover all the more impressive.
The subsidiary of the The Shell Petroleum Company Limited sells and transports oil, gas, power and chemicals globally. 2017 saw the oil and gas company turn over £46.2 billion.
The consumer goods group may have made it to the halfway point in the list, but 2017 was far from ideal. Hurricanes and earthquakes across America, and a disappointing summer weather-wise in Europe, coupled with increasing competition from smaller rivals, saw the company's sales fall short. Revenue in 2017 was £44.4 billion, compared to around £46 billion the previous year.
While growth in the UK market flatlined for the British telecoms company, strong performance in European markets, particularly Spain, Germany, and Italy, saw targets met. 2017 saw the company gain £42.6 billion in revenue.
The subsidiary of Tesco plc currently has around 2,650 stores across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The retailer enjoyed turnover of £40.1 billion last year.
16. Glencore Energy
Glencore Energy UK Ltd is a subsidiary of Glencore UK Ltd., selling oil and gas. The company, headquartered in London, turned over £39.6 billion in 2016.
The 16-year-old company, which deals in waste removal and freight transport, walked away from the 2017 financial year with a very respectable turnover of £38 billion.
A subsidiary of Prudential plc, the company sells life insurance and workplace pensions. Based in London, the international financial services company turned over £32.5 billion last year.
19. Sse PLC
Despite reporting a substantial fall in profits in the months leading up to September last year, the second biggest UK energy supplier managed to top 2016's revenue, turning over £29 billion this year, up from £28.7 billion the previous year. In November last year the company announced plans to merge with Npower's retail business to create a new energy company, though the process isn't likely to be completed until the end of 2018 at the earliest.
20. BHP Billiton PLC
The Anglo-Australian mining and metals giant achieved a healthy turnover of £28.8 billion in 2016. While its petroleum output is expected to decline in 2018, iron and copper production remain strong and are expected to see more growth.
The financial company, had a turnover of £28 billion in 2016. It was set up principally to fund the Aktogay project; a large open-pit mine located in south eastern Kazakhstan developed by parent company KAZ Minerals, which focuses on large-scale copper projects.
The pharmaceuticals company, better known as GSK, turned over £27.9 billion in its 17th year in operation. It wasn't all good news for the owner of well-known brands such as Aquafresh and Horlicks, though; the company came bottom in the Institute of Directors 2017 Good Governance Report, thanks to its low score in the report's audit and risk/external accountability section.
23. Imperial Brands
The Bristol-based tobacco company turned over £27.6 billion last year. The weakness of the pound aided the company improve on its two-year slump, as the majority of its sales are done overseas. Also helpful was the talk of acquisition by Japanese Tobacco in November, which resulted in UK stocks climbing, despite the same speculation surrounding the takeover having been heard for the last two decades.
24. Barclays PLC
The multinational bank borrowed £6 billion from the Bank of England in 2017, in order to ward off the effects of Brexit. 2017 was a difficult year for the company, which saw its shares fall 9.7% in London trading compared to the previous year, making it one of the weakest-performing banks in Europe last year. Total turnover for the year was £27.25 billion.
The retail arm of the Barclays group provides banking and investment services globally. With online banking becoming so widely used, the company continued to close lesser-known ranches in 2017 in a bid to improve cost savings. Revenue sat at £27.22 billion at the end of the year.
26. Centrica PLC
As the largest supplier of gas and electric to UK customers, the owner of British Gas turned over £27.1 billion last year. However, things are far from plain sailing currently for the Windsor-Based company. Despite returning to profit in 2016 amidst controversy surrounding its energy charges, the company suffered huge hits to its profit in 2017, following its large-scale shift in strategy.
The subsidiary of BP plc markets oils and petrochemicals alongside carrying out the financial operations involved within the UK. The company, based in Sunbury-on-Thames, turned over £26.2 billion last year.
28. Rio Tinto
Despite suffering problems with bad weather and iron ore production during the first half of the year, the mining company saw its output improve in the third quarter thanks to the modernisation of its haulage railway through Australia’s outback. Overall the year saw them turnover £25.1 billion.
29. Scottish Widows
The Edinburgh-based company acquired Zurich's pensions and savings business in October 2017, adding another 500,000 customers and £15 billion in assets to the company's portfolio. The financial services company had a revenue of £24.4 billion.
Despite very little demand within the UK, Jaguar Land Rover had its best year ever in 2017, thanks to sales overseas, particularly in China. Global sales rose to 621,100, with annual turnover at £24.3 billion.
British Telecommunications saw a total revenue of £24 billion in 2017. The company was hit by a disappointing performance in its TV business, adding just 7,000 new users in its second quarter, compared to 63,000 the following year. It also coughed up substantial amounts to improve its customer service and to pay for sports rights in 2017.
32. BFC Finance
Based in Luton, the company provides financial services such as business loans and foreign currency hedges and currency risks. After just two years in operation, the company turned over £23.9 billion last year.
33. J Sainsbury
The changing nature of the food retailing industry coupled with rising costs meant that Sainsbury's announced it will slash around 2,000 jobs as part of its cost-savings strategy going forward. To make matters worse for the company, Argos, the retailer it acquired in 2016, saw disappointing sales over the Christmas period. Total revenue for last year was £23.5 billion.
34. Cadbury Six LLP
The British confectioner turned over £23 billion during the past year.
The Bank of England subsidiary was set up in January 2009 by order of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to help ward off the negative impact of the recession. The BoE uses it to purchase assets and gilts. It's latest turnover figure was £22.7 billion.
36. Asda Group Ltd
The food retailer has struggled to ward off competition from discount rivals such as Lidl and Aldi, reporting 11 consecutive quarterly falls in sales as a result. However, there was some good news earlier this year, with bosses at the retailer reporting that they had achieved the best sales of the 'Big Four' UK supermarkets, having beaten Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. Turnover as of 2017 was £21.6 billion.
The company is a subsidiary of BlackRock International Limited, and predominantly deals in providing pooled investment funds to UK employer-sponsored pension accounts. Now entering its 30th year in operation, the company turned over £21.3 billion last year.
38. Lloyds Bank
The bank was bailed out by the UK government following the financial crisis, but returned to private hands last year. The principal subsidiary of Lloyds Banking Group earned £20.9 billion last year.
The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sinochem Corporation, and undertakes trade in oil across the globe. Founded in 1990 and based in London, the company has become one of the largest international petroleum oil trading centres in the market. Turnover for last year was £20.3 billion.
40. Compass Group
The contract food service and cleaning company enjoyed a strong year, boosted by continued growth in the North American market. They also ranked ninth in the Institute of Directors' 2017 Good Governance report. Their latest figures show turnover of £19.6 billion.
41. Reassure Limited
The British life and pensions insurance company enters its 55th year in operation having earned £19 billion in revenue last year. The company, based in Telford, is a subsidiary of Admin Re UK Limited and offers pension products alongside life and health insurance and retirement annuities.
The UK subsidiary of the multinational telecommunications company turned over £18.8 billion last year. The company, along with its parent, have made a point of prioritising cutting costs in 2018, with group CEO Sigve Brekke telling Reuters the company will not be expanding via acquisitions in the near future.
The company, formed from a merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in March 2017, suffered losses of $10 billion due to a rush of withdrawals. Many investors opted to leave the fund house due to worries over the impact of the merger. The latest financial report shows a revenue of £18.7 billion.
44. Old Mutual
Old Mutual Plc is a multinational long-term savings and investment company headquartered in London. It provides life assurance, pensions and investment options and operates throughout Europe, Asia, southern Africa and Latin America. By the end of 2016, the Anglo-South African group had more than 19 million customers and managed total assets of £394.9 billion. Revenue totalled £18.7 billion.
Located in Sussex, the subsidiary of Lotus Group primarily deals in the rental of vehicles and travel arrangements overseas. With over two decades under its belt, the company earned £18.6 billion in turnover last year.
The Anglo–Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company turned over £17.8 billion in 2016. With sales falling thanks to competition from generic competition, the company is hoping to gain a boost from its operations in the fast-growing cancer drug market.
47. Bae Systems
The British defence company has benefited from the global uncertainty in current times, as countries seek to increase their spending on defence operations. However, the company did take a hit at the beginning of 2018 when Norway's Government Pension Fund, the world's largest wealth fund, made the decision to end their relationship due to the former's involvement in making nuclear weapons. 2016 revenue for the company reached £17.8 billion.
The Scottish pensions and insurance company turned over £16.8 billion last year, under its brand name Aegon UK. The company, based in Edinburgh, sells pensions, life insurance and investment products, as well as pension and trustee schemes to corporate clients.
The international mining company turned over £16.5 billion last year. The company remains the world's largest producer of platinum, and is currently featured in 85th place on the Forbes Top Multinational Performers list.
The retailer earned a total of £16.3 billion during its sixth year in operation. The company offers various industrial supplies via wholesale, including goods such as tools, safety equipment and hygiene products, alongside inventory management services to customers in both the public and private sectors.
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