The NEC Group, the Birmingham and Solihull-based operator of five of the country's top events and exhibitions venues, made an operating profit of £32.3 million in 2005/06.

Revenue of £127.1 million was generated during the period by over 1,000 exhibitions, music events, conferences, sport and other activities such as banqueting and catering.

The year marked the low point in activity in the regular four-year exhibition cycle - exhibitions are often irregular rather than every year.

But, said the organisation, operating profit was actually £6.5 million - some 25 per cent - higher than the same point in the cycle four years ago.

The figures though were a drop from 2004/5 operating profit of £42.6 million and revenue of £136.4 million.

On revenue, the NEC exhibition facilities were £82.3 million, down from £96.8 million in 2004/5.

The respective other figures were - arenas and box office, £17.4 million ( £16.2 million); ICC, £22 million (£18.3 million); and Symphony Hall, £5.1 million (also £5.1 million).

The operating profit equivalents were - NEC exhibition facilities, £26.9 million (£37.1 million); a renas and box office, £2.4 million (£3 million); ICC, £3.3 million (£1 million); and Symphony Hall a loss of £1.7 million against a previous £1.6 million deficit.

The overall deficit after interest payments was £1 million and once capital and loan repayments were brought into the equation it meant owner Birmingham City Council had to subsidise the organisation by £2.9 million.

A record 26 new exhibitions for the future were won by the group - its best ever year for new business wins.

The NEC Group "delivered for Birmingham and the West M idlands" 4.5 million visitors, 22,000 jobs, £1.3 billion of expenditure with local hotels, restaurants, florists, stand builders and other businesses - £10 for every £1 of NEC revenue - and 163 exhibitions servicing a broad range of industry sectors and consumer interests.

Exhibitions staged in the year included Spring Fair, the Commercial Vehicle Show, BBC Gardener's World Live, Crufts, BBC Clothes Show Live, MPH and the Baby Show.

A total of 294 events took place at the ICC, including 14,000 delegates to the World Baptist Congress and 8,000 to the annual conference of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, which has now been held there for 15 consecutive years.

There were 248 music, sporting and corporate events in the NEC Arena and the NIA, including performances from McFly, Little Britain, Lee Evans, Kanye West, Jack Johnson, Status Quo, Take That and Disney on Ice.

Some 342 events took place at Symphony Hall. The ICC reported its best year in 2005/6.

John Hornby, the group's chief operating officer, said: "This was the first year of our three year turnaround plan, and I am delighted with our performance.

"We beat our budget, delivered a record-breaking financial performance at the ICC and also saw superb levels of new exhibition business wins at the NEC. In planning for the future, we are investing £40 million in the venues. This will ensure the venues remain successful and attractive and are able to continue to deliver economic benefits year after year to the West Midlands' economy."

The money was generated as part of a £215 million loan refinancing. "For 2006/7 we envisage returning a surplus to Birmingham City Council of over £7 million after covering loan repayments."