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Good figures, but 2009 is going to be tough, says NCE's Jackie Whitelaw

Jackie Whitelaw

This year’s Consultants File is a hard one to interpret. The raft of chief executives interviewed by NCE to compile the market report feel that in the light of a banking crisis and a recession, 2009 is going to be a tough year.

Yet the figures produced for the Consultants File, relating to the whole of 2008 – which include dramatic drops in revenue over the last three months of that year thanks to the credit crunch – reveal an extraordinary 20% rise in fees to £10.3bn and staff numbers up from 156,423 to 171,886.

Even if the dire prediction of a 25% reduction in capacity in the coming months materialises, that would only reduce fee levels in the sector to just below those of 2007 which was itself a boom year. Work in hand for the engineering consultancy sector totals £10.4bn and that is without numbers from major businesses like Grontmij, RPS, Buro Happold, Davis Langdon and Turner & Townsend. How do you make sense of that?

On one hand we have major companies laying off staff and on the other workload projections are as good as they have been in the best of times.

Research by Imperial College’s business school has shown that over the last 30 years of the Consultants File the engineering consultancy sector has been producing stronger and stronger economic growth, despite recessions.

It peaks and falls back a bit, but never goes right back down to the rainforest at the base of the mountain. This time though, the struggle to find credit might have more of an impact, but for the evidence of that (or not) you’ll have to wait for next year’s File.

For now, let’s just celebrate the fact that the sector, despite its travails, is still producing mind-blowingly brilliant designs and projects that change the world and the conditions of life for millions of people.

That’s what the NCE/ACE Consultant of the Year Awards are all about and big congratulations to all the winners. And best of luck for the coming year.

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