DE LA RUE, the world’s largest commercial banknote printer, has reported a 43 per cent increase in underlying operating profit on the back of an improvement plan which strengthened its presence in the North-East.

Chairman Philip Rogerson said that trading remained strong, despite a more challenging currency market.

De La Rue, which has its main printing factory in Gateshead where it employs about 400 people, said banknote print volumes were similar to the year before at £6.2bn, with paper volumes up 10 per cent to 9,600 tonnes. That's despite the ongoing overcapacity in the banknote paper market which, says the firm, has meant a “more difficult” pricing environment.

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The Team Valley firm's improvement plan realised savings of £20m in the period, bringing the annual savings under the plan to £40m. It followed the move of some manufacturing capacity and jobs from Dunstable to its Gateshead factory.

It launched a turnaround programme after the group was rocked by a scandal in 2010, when it was claimed employees had falsified paper specification test certificates.

Mr Rogerson, said: "De La Rue is in fundamentally better shape today and with a culture of continuous improvement embedded in our business there will be further efficiencies ahead.

"We entered the new financial year with a good order book albeit reflecting the recent more difficult pricing environment in the Currency market. The Board's expectations for 2014/15 remain unchanged."

Over the full year to March 29, revenue rose six per cent to £513.3m and underlying profits to £90.5m.

De La Rue, which prints more more than 150 national currencies, including Bank of England notes, wants to make the bank's new polymer-based Sterling notes, which could replace existing cotton paper currency by 2016. More than 20 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Mexico, already use plastic currency.

The firm, which employs about 4,000 people worldwide, also produces driving licences and passports.