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British expertise will find overseas work

Mark Hansford

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

Readers' comments (2)

  • With regards to the comment "that there is not one major project in the UK that is right now a given", I am currently involved with the Western Link project which is the installation and burial of 2 365km HVDC cables running from Ardneil in Scotland to The Wirral. The project is valued at £1Bn and was due to commence in October, but due to problems with the manufacture of the cable, it has had to be postponed until April.

    My company, Deepocean, are responsible for the burial of the cables through the use of a subsea cable plough and jet trenching ROV. A considerable amount of pre-planning Engineering work has already been conducted to ensure readiness for the project, which will allow Scotland's surplus renewable energy capacity to be distributed to the rest of the UK.

    I am a graduate Civil Engineer, and there are many other civil Engineers working within the subsea industry which is going through massive growth at the moment and also suffering from a lack of experienced personnel. It is the fastest growing industry in the UK economy, currently worth around £8.9bn with vast amounts of opportunity, however, I feel that it is poorly represented in the pages of NCE and somewhat forgotten about. I would like to see more articles covering offshore projects such as the Western Link project, as they are interesting, unique and involve a multitude of Engineering challenges to be overcome.

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  • Now well retired, having been the last senior partner of RPT - recently reestablished as RENDEL LTD - I commend the headline of the article. UK consultants (and contractors) have historically always worked overseas .Following the post-war merging of most of the partner and privately owned firms into larger more commercially orientated units, the demand of UK reconstruction and the misguided public disparagement of the colonial past, this has been somewhat overlooked. The UK engineering contribution to development is well respected throughout most of the world and we neglect many of the opportunities available. As well as commercially profitable for firms and the UK finances, such work is excellent for engineering professionals. Experience of other cultures develops personal skills such as independance, collaboration, negotiation, leadership, commercial, curiosity etc which can be restricted in the more established society at home. It is also financially rewarding.

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