THE company responsible for the toughest paint job in the world has announced a record turnover.

Pyeroy, of Gateshead, made £43m last year, a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.

In January last year, the group, which has previously specialised in coating Royal Navy warships, won a contract to paint part of the Forth Rail Bridge, in Scotland.

Hugh Pelham, managing director of Pyeroy, said: "Last year was very successful and we have started 2005 in the same vein, with a good forward order book.

"Some of the latest developments and contract wins show how the group is successfully expanding its industrial services and access business while still maintaining its core marine business."

The Forth Bridge, which is Scotland's largest listed structure, has been painted a distinctive red since it opened in 1890.

Because of its size and complexity, maintaining the paintwork along its one-and-a-half miles has been a permanent job for more than a century, giving rise to the description of a never-ending job as being "like painting the Forth Bridge".

Mr Pelham said Pyeroy was in negotiations to extend the bridge refurbishment contract.

Elsewhere in Scotland, it has been appointed to manage the post-fabrication painting and finishing activities at the Dunfermline offshore fabrications plant of FMC Kongsberg Subsea.

The group, which has operations in Middlesbrough, Rosyth, Belfast, Dublin, Birkenhead and the Devonport Dockyard, in Plymouth, last year secured a number of Ministry of Defence painting contracts for warships and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels.

It significantly expanded its scaffolding operations, with acquisitions in the North-West and Ireland.

The company's activities in Ireland were also boosted towards the end of the year with a £2m scaffolding and painting contract on two semi-submersible offshore platforms at the Harland and Wolff yard, in Belfast.

Expansion in Ireland has continued this year, with the establishment of insulation and contract cleaning services divisions.

This has helped increase the workforce from 700 three years ago to 900.

Mr Pelham said: "We remain very active in the naval dockyards through our painting services and we continue to bid for a number of major RFA and warship contracts, including the repainting of HMS Ark Royal.

"The technical expertise that has served the company well in terms of Ministry of Defence warship contracts is now being extended to other sectors and we are experiencing good growth for our services across a range of activities."