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Letters: Mouchel ‘rescue’: Rumbles of discontent


NCE is read by civil engineers, investors, clients, lawyers and bankers, making the news article about Mouchel (NCE 6 September) of wide ranging interest.

From an engineer and investor’s viewpoint Mouchel has been a reasonable success since becoming a listed company, and this was reflected in good profits for shareholders. However, the disastrous mistakes last year by Richard Cuthbert and his board turned the company from a success to a failure.

New senior directors were brought in but despite cost cuts the lenders did not appear to have long term confidence in the company and insisted on unsustainable high interest rates which helped bring Mouchel to the edge of collapse.

A rescue plan devised by the lenders and management included the removal of shareholders, and following an expensive and meaningless “vote” Mouchel was delisted. Once the shareholders had been removed Mouchel was purchased within 24 hours by the lenders for £87M.

This new-found lender confidence is backed by lower interest rates and willingness to support Mouchel for the foreseeable future.

Jobs appear to have been “saved” but was delisting essential? Investors, particularly those engineers who have invested in the company for which they work, must wonder which company and their shareholders will be next for the chopping block.

  • John Gardner,

Grant Rumbles’ confidence in the future of Mouchel (NCE 6 September) ignores neatly the contribution made by many of the discarded shareholders who, as employees, acquired their holdings through “share save” options

This contribution played a significant part in ensuring that, despite the actions of the former board, the firm retains the basic, underlying reputation sufficient, potentially, to survive the current restructuring in some form or other.

The derisory 1p/share dividend which was offered to them gave shareholders, whichever way they voted, nothing much to lose and, clearly, some chose to express their disgust by rejecting the restructuring proposal.

Proportionally, as a percentage, Rumbles’ record with the share price reduction has been worse than that overseen by Richard Cuthbert.

Based on the details in your article, Cuthbert’s board saw the price reduced to 11% of its former level; the equivalent Rumbles-era record is to about 6% of the price inherited.

As a former employee of Mouchel, I have positive memories of the achievements of the late Jim Harding in bringing the firm to greater prominence and I’m saddened by how these have been diminished by the actions of his successors.

I wish current employees well in what I’m sure will be challenging times ahead. I just have a nagging concern that, given the methods adopted so far, asset-stripping could start well before the five or so years suggested by Rumbles.

  • John Brown (F.ret),

What’s in a name?

I have just read Bruce Denness’ letter (Letters last week) and think his suggested name ”ingenier” is quite a good one.

However, for quite some time it has struck me that the description ”secretary” has not held people back who rise to great office such as “secretary of state”. Society does not think less of them because they mix them up with secretaries.

I believe that the improvement of our status will need profound societal changes and in reality a change in name is unlikely to achieve a great deal.

  • Dermod Sweeney, 1 Ridgeway, Epsom, Surrey KT19 8LD

Drawing distinctions

There was a time when I used to see letters from, say, Monsieur l’Ingénieur Renaudie, Service Téchnique de l’Aéronautique, who would conclude with the remark, “Veuillez agréer, mon cher Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distinguées.”

Pompously redundant, maybe, but I am not sure that signing off as “LOL, Dave” so typical of Britain today, enhances the respect for which some crave.

On the aspect of the meaning of “engineer” I have been trying to think of where the verb “to engine” occurs in English literature, and can only think of Kipling’s “Female of the Species”(verse 7).

Kipling would no doubt support more women in our profession, since they are suitably “armed and engined” for it, in default of grosser ties.

  • Christopher May, (M) 6, Leewood Road, Weston-super-Mare BS23 2PB

Fit for a prince

Well done to David Nimmo Smith in pointing out the often misunderstood distinction in the naming of Edinburgh’s Princes Street (NCE 6 September).

But he has rather gone over the top in nominating two princes in its origin as the street was named after only one!

The street was originally planned to have been named “St Giles Street”, but this did not find favour with George III and it was actually named “Prince’s Street” after the young Prince of Wales - later George IV - as minuted by Edinburgh Council on 23 December 1767.

Afterwards the name was spelt “Prince’s Street” on most Edinburgh maps for at least half a century, but eventually the apostrophe was dropped, perhaps for convenience in printing or in making street nameplates, and the misunderstanding accelerated”.

  • Professor Roland A Paxton, vice-chairman ICE Panel for Historical Engineering Works, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh EH14 4AS

Air travellers need good connections

I found it very refreshing to read Henri Pageots’s note about the case for expanding Stansted (Letters last week). London is a very interesting and particular case of a city with several airports.

Moving to a multi-hub system could increase the segregation of airlines or destinations. The beauty of hubs is that they concentrate both, hence flight connections are simple and quick.

I use Schiphol because it is cheaper and extremely quick and simple to change flights without going through immigration or customs. A segregated system would require fast, simple and affordable inter-airport transport for connecting passengers and their luggage. London does not have this.

I agree with the idea of decentralisation. London should become a multi-hub city with a ring of airports formed by Gatwick-Heathrow-Luton-Stanstead-Southend. Passengers should be able to check in and go through security at the airport of their preference, closest to where they live, and then board a high speed connection to their departure terminal.

Intercontinental flight connections could be made between airports, and passengers would travel across London without leaving the secured area.

  • Diego Padilla,

Maintaining workload

The construction industry is again in a difficult workload position. One aspect which never seems to be included in the workload analysis is maintenance and the lack of it.

For example, in the Swansea area alone the backlog in school maintenance totals £150M and one school was recently closed due to dangerous structural deficiency.

Swansea is not alone: if all maintenance backlogs in buildings and transportation were totalled for Britain it would amount to billions.

Surely it is possible to so arrange the industry’s finances that companies which find themselves short of new work can be given pre-arranged maintenance work.

  • Christopher Benjafield,

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