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Firms take a cautious view on speedy return to Libya

UK civils firms were this week cautiously surveying the security situation in Libya before returning to their infrastructure contracts and tendering for new work in the region.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel warnings still advise UK citizens not to enter the country but firms told NCE they were beginning to hatch strategies, from dealing with the new Transitional Council to which projects to return to.

Before the rebel uprising began in February consultant Capita Symonds had two significant projects in Libya - the airport in Benghazi, which has since been bombed leaving the newly-built runway destroyed- and a roads and highways scheme.

Biding time

Capita Symonds project director Mark Blake said he was certain the company would return to its projects in Libya, but that it had to bide its time.

“Anyone turning up now and thinking they’re being clever are kidding themselves really”

Mark Blake, Capita Symonds

“UK Trade and Investment is setting up a session in London later this month with a representative of the Interim Transitional National Council in attendance,” he said.

“There are a number of other countries knocking on the door and the UK has been cautious. But we don’t need to push on as heavily as others. The UK was well received [before the uprising] and our visas are being processed now when a lot of the other [countries’ visas] aren’t.”

The Libya - The Future conference will be held in London on Monday September 26 where National Transitional Council (NTC) UK representative Guma El Gamaty will attend.

Germany,Italy and France ahead

Delegations from Germany, Italy and France have already visited Benghazi in preparation for the redevelopment, and British Expertise chief executive Graham Hand warned that the UK’s caution could mean it has missed out on opportunities.

“[Germany, Italy and France] are ahead of the game,” he said. “In fact, the UK has missed the game completely.”

He added that FCO travel advice was to blame. “I’m afraid that’s the problem. The advice says don’t go and insurance companies won’t touch it…it’s a manifestation of the nanny state.”

“It’s completely different to the suggestion of the gormless tourist who doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’re not in the same category as the businessman who can hire an armed convoy to protect themselves.”

Blake said he had also heard that German, French and Italian delegations were already in the country, although he was less concerned about them having a head start.

New regime not established

“The [colonel Muammar] Gaddafi regime has yet to be removed, the new regime has to be founded and set up and people put in the right positions so it will be different from when we were last there,” he said.

“If we went too early, it would be like having a client in the UK before knowing who is responsible for what. Anyone turning up now and thinking they’re being clever are kidding themselves really.”

Blake said in his experience the Libyan clients were rather cautious and wouldn’t be handing over new contracts to those who get to site first.

“They won’t jump into bed with others just because they’re the first people to speak to them,” he said. “I believe they will honour some of their existing arrangements.”

Temporary works specialist RMD Kwikform was also working on Benghazi and Tripoli airports as well as the Tripoli ring road before February.

General manager for export Alexis Potter told NCE that the firm was eager to renew its arrangements when the security situation allows.

Damage

“On a practical basis, we don’t know what kind of damage has been done, but what is clear is we see there is a major role for RMD Kwikform in the country moving forward,” he said.

“We are seeing our initial contribution as one that will support the effort to boost power and water availability to the people of Libya and with previous experience in the county working on the man-made river project and major water management schemes across the Middle East, [RMD is] well placed to support this important first step.”

Other UK consultants such as WSP and Mott MacDonald both said it was too early to consider returning to their respective work in the country.

Consultant Aecom had a vast $50bn (£31.5bn) contract for the project management of a housing project and 200 employees on the ground before the spring but would not comment on whether it would return.

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