By Scott Wright

Deputy Business Editor

SCOT JCB, the Glasgow-based plant company, has warned its profit and turnover in 2020 will be “substantially lower” than last year after enduring a “scary” fall in business in the first half amid the coronavirus.

However, it remains confident it will still end the year in the black, following the recovery of construction activity following lockdown and resilient sales to the agriculture market.

Scot JCB sells, hires and services plant and equipment such as diggers, excavators and tractors to clients such as builders and farmers. It operates from 14 depots across Scotland and the north of England.

The company’s comments on the anticipated results for 2020 came as new accounts show profits at Scot JCB increased by 2.1 per cent to £3.8 million in the year to December 31, 2019. Turnover for the period grew by 3.4% to £179.1m, as the firm saw growth across all areas of the business. But turnover plunged this year as the country moved into lockdown in March to combat coronavirus, which resulted in construction coming to a standstill in April and May.

Scot JCB joint managing director Robin Bryant said is has been a “really challenging year”. “Back in April and May, construction activity completely stopped,” he said. “ So our turnover dropped by about 50% back then. It was pretty scary times when it first happened.”

The company put around two-thirds of its 345 employees on furlough between April and July. But the downturn in activity was such that the company made 52 redundancies, representing about 15% of its workforce.

Asked if there was a chance of bringing staff back, Mr Bryant said the changes will “sadly” be permanent because business activity has not returned to a level that would allow the firm to begin recruiting again.

However, following that sharp decline during lockdown, Mr Bryant said the construction market rebounded “pretty strongly”, amid buoyant conditions in the housebuilding sector.

He credited temporary cuts to stamp duty (Land and Buildings Transaction Tax in Scotland) and the help to buy scheme as factors that have helped give confidence to homebuyers.

Joint managing director Iain Bryant said: “There is no doubt back in March, April time you would have thought housebuilding would potentially collapse. But it is very buoyant just now. The ground works [and] contractors we deal with are very busy.”

“We have ordered heavily in terms of new equipment because of that,” he added, noting the firm takes confidence because construction activity is allowed to continue in areas in tier four of Scotland’s lockdown system. The company will take delivery of £45m of new equipment in the first quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, activity has been steadier in the agriculture arena, which largely continued throughout lockdown. Machinery sales slowed down but the parts and services “aftermarket” continued.

Iain Bryant noted: “Agriculture has certainly shown how resilient the industry is. [In] construction, just now, there is a demand for product, which is encouraging.”

Asked if clients in the farming industry had any concerns about Brexit, and the continuing risk of a no-deal departure from the European Union on December 31, Robin Bryant said: “We are not getting a lot of feedback – a lot of people are just waiting to see what happens on the ag side.

“We are certainly not hearing about people holding back orders, or fearful of ordering equipment because of Brexit.”

Despite the downturn during lockdown, the firm has kept all of its 14 depots open.

Robin Bryant said a big footprint is key when serving the agriculture market, noting: “We are committed to keeping all of our depots open so we can give good support and good service.”

Scot JCB made its last acquisition with the purchase of AM Phillip Agritech in 2018. It has no current plans to make further acquisitions, stating that its focus is on “growing organically”.