DUNCAN Bannatyne said he was looking forward to making headlines for his business exploits rather than for his personal life as he reported a 30 per cent increase in profits, and eyed future acquisitions. 

The Dragons Den star was in upbeat mood yesterday after seeing pre-tax annual profits rise from £8.8m to £11.5m at the companies behind the Darlington-based Bannatyne Health Club chain.

Mr Bannatyne was also cheered by strong performance in recent months which he believed offered a strong sign that sustained confidence is returning to the economy.

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For the first two months of 2014, online sales at the health club chain had grown 98 per cent compared to the same period in 2013, and there was a 14 per cent rise in new membership over the same period.

"It was a challenging year for me personally, so these results are very pleasing," he said.

"One day I will be handing this business on to my children and I want it to be in the best shape possible for them," the self-made millionaire told The Northern Echo, as he reflected on a year when he divorced his wife Joanne who later opened a gym in Durham less than a mile from a Bannatyne Health and Fitness centre.

But he preferred to talk about future plans, which included growing his portfolio of 59 health clubs following a £92m deal completed last month which cleared his companies debts, as well as improved cash flow and liquidity.

The Bannatyne Group sold and agreed a long-term leaseback deal on the ground leases at 39 of its health clubs with M&G Investments.

The cash injection helped to free Mr Bannatyne from the burden of repaying about £10m a year on a loan taken out with Anglo Irish Bank before the lender fell victim to the banking crisis.

Bannatyne's turnover rose from £91.7m to £92.4m during 2013, and operating profit before exemptions and impairments was up from £13.3m to £14.7m.

The group's 170,000-strong membership remained relatively unchanged during the year.

"These fantastic results vindicate our strategy to reduce debt and focus on new ways to deliver exceptional service to members," Mr Bannatyne added.
The entrepreneur urged the Chancellor to back growing businesses by announcing a VAT cut in today's Budget.

"I give the Government £18m in tax every year. By reducing the amount they take would help me to create jobs and support the recovery," he explained.

Bannatyne's employs 80 staff at its Darlington head office.