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Consolidation is inevitable in the world of the one stop shop

The consolidation of UK civil engineering consultancy continues this week and you have to say it can only be good for the prospects of UK civil engineers.

CH2M Hill’s purchase of Halcrow, one of the treasured names in the history of UK engineering consultancy, will leave many with an uneasy feeling that our crown jewels are being sold off.

On the back of URS’s purchase of Scott Wilson in June last year, Ramboll’s purchase of Gifford in April and of WhitbyBird before that in 2007 this latest swallowing of historic brand names does tug at the heartstrings.

Let’s not forget Jacobs’ purchase of Sir Alexander Gibb in 2001 and Babtie in 2004 or Aecom’s rise over the last decade after buying Oscar Faber and Maunsell.

In short there are increasingly few major “household” British engineering names out there. And the question must be how long can or will the likes of Mott MacDonald and Arup remain independent? Or how long can Atkins, Mouchel or WSP remain relative minnows amid market-listed giants?

While it is interesting to look back nostalgically at the UK’s engineering roots, the most important thing for UK engineers is for their employers to look to the future.

“While it is interesting to look back nostalgically at the UK’s engineering roots, the most important thing for UK engineers is for their employers to look to the future”

And the future, as NCE continues to point out, is about global infrastructure delivery. Clients now seek the best services from the most able providers and will scour the world to find the best partners.

Each year NCE’s Consultants File highlights the increasingly global workload enjoyed by our consulting firms with many now generating two thirds of their income from work outside the UK.

And while there will still be a place for the myriad of niche consultants, when it comes to client advice and lead project engineering roles, global clients want to employ global partners.

Gone are the days of British firms punching above their weight through special “post-Colonial” relationships across the world. Today winning major infrastructure work is about providing clients with the services they want, at the price they can afford.

Maintaining this global workload requires skills and relationships but it also increasingly requires presence and clout. As CH2M Hill boss Jacque Rast points out size is now an increasingly important factor.

Size means that you can have a serious presence in multiple geographical locations.Size means that you can draw on vast global resources quickly and across multiple sectors. Size means you can take on risk and add to the clients’ peace of mind.

So by all means let’s maximise the branding benefits from our historic engineering past. But beyond that we must focus on a future where UK engineers work for successful global consultants − consolidation will help.

  • Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

Readers' comments (3)

  • Jacobs did not purchase Babtie Group in 1994; it was 2004 when this took place.

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  • My apologies. You are absolutely right - more haste.. etc. I have changed the dates to reflect my missing decade. Must try harder.<br/>Antony Oliver

  • The interests of civil engineers in this country were better served when there was a healthy mix of British owned consulting engineers, large and small. You can now count the large British owned consultants on the fingers of one hand. That can hardly be good for civil engineering in the UK

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  • It is only too apparent that we would have to be competitive in terms of both pricing and quality. It is also obvious that healthy competition will benefit both the clients and industry as a whole.

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