Canaries' 'white knight' sees firm's earnings top �100m

The 'white knight' who said the credit crunch would prevent him from buying Norwich City FC yesterday revealed his firm's earnings topped �100m last year.

The 'white knight' who said the credit crunch would prevent him from buying Norwich City FC yesterday revealed his firm's earnings topped �100m last year.

Entrepreneur Peter Cullum was engaged in on-off talks to take a controlling stake in the Canaries last year, but ruled himself out when the economic climate turned from boom to bust.

But yesterday Mr Cullum's insurance business, Towergate, revealed that pre-tax earnings will top �109m in 2008 - 'marginally ahead' of earnings in 2007 - despite last year's credit crisis and turmoil in the UK's financial services industry.

The news came as City's relegation fears deepened after Barnsley claimed a vital point at Coventry, putting the Yorkshire club two points ahead of third from bottom Canaries.

Towergate's results threatened to reopen the debate about the club's future ownership.

John Tilson, chairman of Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association, said last night: 'Because of the way this whole scenario was handled, it was never going to go away.

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'We are now on the brink of relegation and this could reopen the whole debate among Norwich fans about the rights and wrongs of the Peter Cullum affair.

'The last thing a lot of people expected was for a company like his to be doing so well at the moment. But if we do get relegated, our need for new investment will be greater than ever, and this debate now threatens to come back like a boomerang.'

Mr Cullum was unavailable for comment yesterday . But an upbeat statement from Towergate about the firm's 'strong performance' last year was a marked contrast to the cautious tone struck by the Norwich-born entrepreneur in December, when he warned that 'every business is being seriously hit by what's going on in the wider economic environment… my business is no different. We are all under the cosh'.

Mr Cullum said at the time that the change in the economic situation since he first made his �20m offer for new players in exchange for a controlling stake made it unlikely that he would step in to buy the football club.

A month earlier, in an in-depth interview with the EDP, he hinted that he would only intervene financially if the club was faced with administration.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, the finance brokerage run by former Norwich City directors Andrew and Sharon Turner reported a �13m fall in pre-tax profits last year.

But Mr Turner, chairman of Norwich-based Central Trust, said the 'worst was past' and predicted a rise in earnings in 2009.

Central Trust results, see EDP The Business today.

Peter Cullum's Towergate, Europe's largest independent insurance intermediary, revealed yesterday that income rose by 13pc to �315m in 2008 compared to the year before - and earnings before interest and tax will be 'marginally ahead' of the �109m recorded in 2007.

Towergate said there had been encouraging economic signs since the turn of the year, with record sales of new broking and underwriting business in the first three months of 2009.

The 'strong performance' in 2008 reflected a decision to recruit new sales staff across the UK and a 'sharp increase' of internet trading in the company's insurance services,' the firm said.

Towergate also confirmed that it had also renegotiated its long-term bank facilities to 'support the business in its next phase of development' - including the facility to 'pursue attractive acquisition opportunities'.

In a statement, Mr Cullum, the firm's executive chairman, said: 'I am pleased to report a solid performance for 2008 against a backdrop of the most hostile market conditions in my experience, and a highly encouraging start to 2009.

'While conditions in the market remain tough for our customers, we have continued to invest in sales, service and innovation across the group to deliver on our promises and enable us to maintain our high levels of customer loyalty.'