Highway Insurance has slammed new entrants to the motor market for pushing down rates, despite rising claims costs.

As the motor insurer announced a 29% jump in profit before tax to £27.3m in 2005, Highway chairman Ross Dunlop said: "Pressure continues to be exerted on prices by old participants seeking to re-enter the market, together with a series of relentless advertising campaigns from new entrants."

Highway reported a combined operating ratio of 96.3% in 2005, down from 97.7% a year earlier.

The insurer's three broking businesses generated an aggregated turnover of £17m.

The retail division last year handled 180,000 policies. Internet sales rose by 50%.

The company said it aims to handle 250,000 policies and generate £5m profit by the end of 2007.

Chris Hill, Highway managing director, said the motor insurer had achieved growth because of "sensible underwriting". Highway, he said, had earned a reputation with brokers for being a reliable insurer "rather than dipping in and out of the market".

Of insurers trying to re-enter the motor market, he said: "These people come and go."