Selling British expertise abroad. That’s the thinking behind tunnelling specialist Donaldson Associates’ recent decision to sell up to Danish giant Cowi.
Get some financial clout behind you, and go win some big, international jobs.
It was the exact same reasoning that bridge design specialist Flint & Neill used six years ago when it sold out to the same Danish giant. And that move worked out pretty well for all involved, giving Flint & Neill the financial muscle to compete on a level playing field to win work on major bridge projects worldwide, including the Mersey Gateway crossing here in the UK.
And now the two are working in unity, exploiting each other’s knowledge and expertise, with the view to making further inroads nationally - and internationally.
And I can’t but applaud the move. It’s proactive; it’s getting out there and seeking the work, not complacently sitting back and waiting for it to come to them.
And that, to me, is wise. As, despite much positivity and big talk, there is not one major project in the UK that is right now a given.
Yes, we have had a lot of noise about High Speed 2 (HS2) and even 3 and 4 the last week or so - but there is as yet not a bean committed to its £42bn construction cost. And nor will there be any time before the next General Election; any time before next summer when priorities could be oh so different. Let’s face it, the deficit is £100bn-plus and rising, all political parties are currently promising unfunded tax cuts, and the NHS is now saying it needs to spend £30bn more than it thought it did over the next five years. So where is this cash for infrastructure like HS2 going to come from? Pension funds? Not much sign of that yet. PFI projects?Still taboo. So where then?
And yes, more immediately the £4bn-plus Thames Tideway Tunnel has got planning permission, and yes, it has got a coherent funding strategy involving us, the bill payers. But it is now facing down a very well funded legal challenge that could easily see the whole thing thrown up in the air, or kicked into the long grass.
And yes, more immediately still we have had dire warnings from the National Grid about winter power blackouts, and yes, we have seen the European Commission give the thumbs up to the government’s subsidy to Hinkley Point C developer EdF. But, such is the nature of our privatised energy industry, EdF is not exactly racing to up tools and get on with it. It still has to finalise funding of its own, of course, and will build at a pace that suits it – not the UK government, and not the UK construction industry.
So that’s why you have to applaud the likes of Donaldson and Flint & Neill. Yes they want a big piece of HS2, Thames Tideway and the rest; but they aren’t going to sit around and wait for it. There’s plenty happening -actually happening - worldwide, they want a big slice of it. British expertise abroad. Brilliant.
- Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor