It’s already turning into the kind of high-stakes City game where fortunes and reputations can be made or broken.

But as Costain continues to eye Mouchel - its goal no less than a transformational deal to double its market capitalisation and triple profits - the two main talking points among observers are the lack of cash on the table and who else is likely to take the plunge and spoil Costain’s game (see news, pages 10-11).

The drama began to unfold before Christmas - Costain privately tested the waters by tabling an all-paper share swap deal. But as always, the sticking point was the value of the goods in question, and at that time Costain valued the business even lower than its subsequent £150m offer that Mouchel rejected at the end of last week.

It is likely that the key obstacle is price or cash, So this is where the true value Costain puts on Mouchel is likely to become clear

Of course, as soon as such stalemates are made public, it is likely that the key obstacle to progress is either price or cash, especially when key shareholders are keeping silent on the matter. So this is the moment when the true value Costain puts on Mouchel is likely to become clear. Costain’s transformation from traditional builder under the stewardship of John Armitt and, latterly, Stuart Doughty into Andrew Wyllie’s consistent, de-risked, diversified vehicle has been well documented. And this deal is as much about Costain’s next strategic step as it is about beefing up its numbers or exploiting another company’s distress.

Mouchel is clearly a neat fit for Costain: it would serve to supplement Costain’s contracting expertise and pipeline contracts alongside an in-house, cost-efficient consulting and facilities management business. It is also being billed as an important element in helping Costain reflect the shifting strategies and increasingly bundled needs of large, blue-chip clients. And who can afford to ignore them these days?

But whether or not showing his hand will force a win for Costain, Andrew Wyllie will come under increasing pressure to deliver the vision that lies behind the approach. So the problem he needs to solve very quickly is to work out how much cash he needs to put down, and then get the money on the table before somebody else gets there first.

Getting back to schools

So the lobbying has come to nothing. The Department for Education’s confirmation that there will be no extra cash this year for halted projects (page 11) has dashed the last hopes of councils hoping to convince the government of their urgent need for new school buildings. And even if the judicial review of Michael Gove’s decision, to be heard at the end of this month, finds against the government, nothing on the ground is likely to change over the next year. But despite the pain that this final nail in the coffin will cause, certainty over the future can only help clients and their project teams plan realistically. But to do that, they also need the final piece in the jigsaw - the much-awaited Sebastian James review into schools procurement, whose completion date seems to be continually slipping. If the government wants schools and their supply chains to move on from Building Schools for the Future, it ought to be giving them the information to do that.

Tom Broughton, brand director