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There's a lot of gloom about, but there is still a bright side

The next few years will be tough but if we are lean and effective civil engineer are in good shape to ride the recession says NCE editor Antony Oliver.
First things first. While it is certainly starting to look a bit grim out there, let's not hit the economic panic button quite yet.
No question about the fact that the next few years are going to be pretty tough as the whole of the civil engineering profession faces less work and more competition.
No question about the fact that every business in the sector must take time to ensure that it is fit and lean enough to take on the challenges.
And there is no question that, as we report this week, jobs will be lost and businesses reorganised as clients take a critical look at how they spend and how they prioritise investments.
But the good news is that there really doesn't seem to be any real let up in the government's plans to use investment in decent public infrastructure as a way to drive the economy.
The challenge for consultants and contractors will still be to help clients to get more value for their investments - certainly by working in close partnership and perhaps even by persuading clients to invest more in up front design.
The bad news, of course, is that much of the smaller "nice to have" planning work is being scaled back. While this work doesn't necessarily grab the headlines of the larger projects - and the quoted expected drop of 7% of business doesn't sound much - it is work that, for a large rump of the industry, keeps businesses ticking over.
As we saw this week at Transport for London, rightly or wrongly, clients are having to make choices about where they spend their limited cash and about which projects they bring to the table.
But for all the gloom, clients like TfL still do have plenty of real and very tangible programmes of infrastructure maintenance, renewal and enhancement on its books for UK civil engineering consultants to get stuck into.
And while all clients will of course be looking to get the best and to pay the most competitive prices for all services, major projects will be the driver in transport, water, energy and waste for many years to come.
If you are in any doubt, just nip along to NCE's annual three day Civils 2008 event which takes place in Earls Court next week. This year we are focusing on "major projects" and clients from the hot markets with over £50bn of investment plans are on show.
Whether you are trying to break into a market, reinforce your presence with a client or trying to move your career into a booming sector your really should be there.
To repeat a point I made a few weeks ago - the future is all about relationships - get into the right markets and go make them.

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