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Best of both worlds

NCE CONTRACTORS FILE - For a company that claims not to be a contractor, Amey Infrastructure Services has done awfully well in this year's NCE Contractors File.Mark Hansford reports.

We are not contractors, ' insists Chris Webster, managing director of Amey Infrastructure Services. 'We are not contractors because we don't build anything.' Maybe not, but the firm maintains an awful lot of highways and railways. This year it turned over £456M in civil engineering, securing a profit of £41M. This works out as a 9% margin, more than enough to make more 'traditional' civils firms deeply jealous.

Webster explains Amey's mouth watering profits is down to the way the firm positions itself. 'We are a combination of consultant and contractor but are neither, and I guess that is reflected in our margins, ' he says.

Amey Group is, indeed, much more than a simple road and rail firm, with an annual turnover of £1.1bn, a stake in London Underground's Tube Lines consortium and its fingers in many other public private partnership and private finance initiative projects in education, health and defence.

Amey Infrastructure Services is a division of this larger group, focused on operating as a 'service provider'. Having ditched traditional contracting in the late 1990s it is a relatively new kid on the block, and now brings together Amey Highways, Amey Rail and Amey Fleet Services into a single organisation.

It is clearly working - the company boasts that it is the UK's leading provider of integrated highway design, management and maintenance for local and central government clients. Amey projects account for 15% of the UK maintenance budget, and the firm manages and maintains 27% of the highways network in England and 60% in Scotland.

It delivers services to more than 3.6M people and, as one of the largest street lighting service providers in the UK, is responsible for the management and maintenance of more than 500,000 street lights.

The key to its success is its 'extremely strong' relationships with its clients, says Webster.

'I always say to clients that we are here to make a profit and we search for clients that will accept service providers that make a profit. We can then provide a good service and not get stuck in contractual issues.' Amey has developed its relationship with Hertfordshire County Council to form a partnership, Hertfordshire Highways, which employs 1,000 staff and delivers highway and street lighting services across Hertfordshire. It was formed in October 2002 and achieved savings in excess of £200,000 in its fi rst year.

Bedfordshire County Council recently bought the Amey ticket and is no doubt hoping to reap similar benefits. Amey will provide design, management and maintenance through a Highways Agency style Managing Agent Contractor (MAC) contract - the first local authority MAC in the country. The contract is worth £20M per annum, starting on 1 October.

This is very much in the spirit of partnering, the virtues of which it has been expounding since its first partnering charter in 1996. 'I think we introduced the concept to this part of the industry, ' claims Webster. 'Now we've been taking that approach for nine years and the rewards are a result of that.' The Bedford win came hot on the heels of success with the Highways Agency, which has offered the firm extensions on four key highway maintenance and management contracts worth in excess of £85M.

And the Scottish Executive has extended its South East Scottish Trunk Road Unit contract to March 2007.

Vital statistics

Company: Amey Infrastructure Services Head office: Oxford UK civil engineering turnover: £456M Civils turnover as percentage of overall: 100% UK civil engineering profit: £41M UK civil engineering work in hand: £1.4bn Biggest clients: Local government (£186M); Highways Agency (£110M); Network Rail (£100M) Biggest sectors: Roads (£356M); Rail (£100M) Biggest growth areas: Roads, Rail Money made from pure design: £60M

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