Smart & Cook’s shopping spree is continuing after it announced its 54th purchase with the acquisiton of Willis’ Cumbrian operation.

Willis Cumbria, which has a staff of 24, will continue to offer its commercial and personal lines businesses from its Cockermouth and Carlisle offices.

Prior to its acquisition by Willis in 2004, the company traded as CH Jeffries, an independent broker.

The 1 August acquisition is part of the aggressive growth plan by Smart & Cook and parent company Venture Preference (VPL) – an AXA subsidiary that also owns Stuart Alexander and Layton Blackham.

AXA has become the UK’s second largest SME broker with 1,200 staff and £400m of premium.

VPL chief executive Stuart Reid said the company wanted to see that number grow by £150m within the next 12 months.

He said: “We have more announcements to make by year end and some of these will be of a significant size.”

Reid said VPL’s strategy had been to take advantage of the heightened consolidation market before conditions slow next year.

“There is a philosophy that if you don’t sell within the next 12 to 18 months, you’ll probably have to wait another four, five or six years before the markets improve.”

Reid said with the stock exchange falling, current soft market conditions and heightened competition, there had been a consolidation frenzy.