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Costain retains top contractor crown

Costain is named Britain’s best civil engineering contractor for the second year running

Costain has retained its title as NCE/CECA Major Civil Engineering Contractor of the Year for a recession-busting performance that has seen its order book soar to a record £2bn-plus.

“In a nutshell, I am very proud of the outstanding level of repeat order customers we have nurtured in the first global recession since the Second World War,” said Costain group strategy & business development director Stephen Wells. “They now account for 87% of our workload – up from 78% last year.

“This has manifested in us securing a tender success rate of 45% by value, leading to a record year-end forward order book.” This was up 25% at £2.0bn at 31 December 2008, and included £777M of secured work for 2009, and ‘preferred bidder’ positions of over £1bn. The firm’s forward order book has since grown to a new record level of £2.4bn after the first four months of this year.

“It is reassuring to hear that independent surveys confirm Costain’s recent achievements towards our intent of ‘Being Number One’ in the UK construction industry,” said Wells.

Outstanding business performance by civil engineering contractors across the UK is recognised in NCE’s annual Contractors File through the NCE/CECA Contractors of the Year Awards. The full list will be published at on Monday.

This year 15 firms were shortlisted across three categories: Major Firm, Medium Firm and Small Firm.

Costain beat off competition from BAM Nuttall, J Murphy & Sons, Galliford Try and Morgan Est to win the Major Firm category for companies with a civil engineering turnover in excess of £200M.

Morgan Est is highly commended on the back of some excellent project performances and strong growth in civils turnover – up 39% on last year.

This year’s Medium Firm Award for companies with a civil engineering turnover between £50M and £200M nearly produced another case of 2008’s winner retaining the title, with VolkerStevin reaching the final five – and making a compelling case for victory with a 21% growth in civils turnover and boasting a £67M order book.

But it was pipped to the post by Dyer & Butler, itself highly commended last year.

Dyer & Butler takes the title after a great year – civils turnover and profits up, and an order book up 40% on last year.

“Dyer & Butler has achieved 15% growth at the same time as achieving a company wide zero Accident Frequency Rate and achieved more than two million man hours without a reportable accident,” said MD Paul Hobbs.

Doing this whilst breaking into a major new market is something to be proud of, said Hobbs. “The decision last year to expand into central London has given us many challenges not only successfully bidding to be part of the London Underground VCP Framework but bringing in new staff and training them in new systems and procedures so that we could successfully operate in safety critical environments, on contracts such as Thameslink, London Underground Stations and at the city’s airports.”

John Graham also had a good year and gets a commendation.

The Small Firm Award, for companies with a civil engineering turnover of less than £50M, this year goes to I & H Brown.

I & H Brown is a firm that has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, and is beginning to reap the rewards. Its financial performance speaks for itself, with turnover significantly up and a very robust order book.

“I believe the market recognises that our wider range of capabilities now includes major drainage, roadworks and infrastructure schemes. I am proud that we have achieved our goals of broadening the scale and scope of our projects, without losing the distinctive style and values that I like to think our clients appreciate,” said contracts director Roger Philpott

Highly commended small firm, Dew Construction (Oldham), is also on the rise, and is expecting new sectors to give it a boost in the near future.

The NCE/CECA Civil Engineering Contractor of the Year Awards are judged on information supplied for inclusion in NCE’s annual Contractors File, a unique document on the state of the civil engineering contracting industry.

This year’s File presents a somewhat confusing message for an industry reputedly in recession, finding contractors reporting record turnover and record order books – and looking positively to the future.

Total civils turnover reported last year was another record high of £16.4bn – up almost £3bn on the previous year alone. Less than two out of 10 are expecting to see their turnover fluctuate by more than 20% – and to put that in context, such a fall would merely represent a return to 2007 levels.

Combined order books of the 144 firms surveyed this year stand at £24.7bn – up almost £5bn on last year. In the history of this File, order books have never been fuller.

Fewer than two out of 10 firms are expecting staff numbers to change by more than 10% in the next two years, with only 4% expecting a cull of 30% or more.

The expectation of work is there, making the issue more one of delivery. And with a big, big chunk of that £24.7bn coming from government, there is a big incentive in making sure spending commitments are adhered to.

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