Booming small and medium enterprise (SME) business will lead Brit to the forefront of UK general insurance, the company has forecast.

The Lloyd's-based group forecast UK SME business to grow by more than 40% to £430m gross premium income next year from £300m in 2003.

It forecast total gross premium income for 2004 of £1.3bn, up 21% on 2003's expected total of £1.05bn.

Casualty business will also becoming increasingly important to Brit as it announced plans to increase the number of casualty underwriters it employs by a third.

The company hopes to employ 32 casualty underwriters by January compared with 21 at the beginning of this year.

The group said it would resume paying dividends next year on the assumption that results keep up with analysts' expectations. Analysts forecast earnings per share of between 6.27p and 8p and profit of between £80.36m and £84.8m for 2003.

The company said it was pursuing the renewal rights to various portfolios, including the Creechurch property insurance portfolio, which is expected to generate around £40m in gross premium income for 2004.

Brit's share price gained 5p by Tuesday afternoon and was trading at 75.5p.