We've all enjoyed the spectacle of Carillion and Balfour Beatty each grabbing a bit of Mowlem and pulling, but it doesn't mean we should expect a round of takeovers

The face of the UK's construction industry has undergone another nip and tuck as Carillion swallows Mowlem, and Balfour Beatty waits eagerly in the wings to snap up the offcuts.

The £313m deal made banner headlines in the construction press, and the prospect of a takeover battle between two industry heavyweights has added some welcome excitement to the post-Christmas lull.

Not that it came as a complete surprise. Mowlem has suffered its fair share of setbacks. Last year it issued a string of profit warnings, each an uncomfortable reminder that construction is a high-risk business. Couple that with a management team that was just finding its feet, and you can bet that Carillion's due diligence teams were diligent in the extreme.

In an industry that continues to exist on wafer-thin margins, it's a dilemma that faces every acquisitive contractor: is the potential worth the price? In Mowlem's case, putting aside its problem projects, there certainly appears to be potential in the business, not least in its facilities management company Aqumen, which would be a useful asset to any player in the PFI market. It also brings a useful PFI portfolio, an array of work in the defence sector and skills in heavy engineering skills that will give access to some attractive new clients.

And of course the deal instantly propels Carillion, itself the offspring of an ambitious asset swap, into the premier league, up there with Balfour Beatty and Amec, as a bigger player in a broader market.

Yes, we have the 2012 Olympics, but it’ll be a brave boardroom that backs a takeover bid on the strength of winning that particular race

But where does the acquisition leave the rest of the pack? A decade ago pundits were predicting that by 2005 there would just be a handful of mega-contractors vying for the largest UK projects, with the second tier either swallowed up or forced out of business.

Like so many "informed predictions" it has proved to be alarmist. Bovis was indeed bought by Lend Lease (which also recently bought Crosby Homes, opening up some intriguing prospects for future collaboration), and Ray O'Rourke's purchase of Laing propelled him straight into the big time. However, if you look at the monthly league tables, there are still plenty of other companies around, not to mention the foreign contractors eyeing our market, particularly when it comes to the PFI.

As the Mowlem deal demonstrates, the acquisition trail hasn't gone cold but will we see a stampede to buy other brand-name contractors? Somehow I doubt it. The continuing uncertainty in the UK commercial sector and the government's apparent wariness about a new round of PFI spending are just two of the many factors that would-be predators must take into account.

I don't rule out other acquisitions but I don't see them happening among the top tier of contractors, simply because the big boys are already big and diverse enough, whereas the appetite among the others will be tempered, quite prudently, by concern for where the market is going.

Yes, we have the 2012 Olympics, but it’ll be a brave boardroom that backs a takeover bid on the strength of winning that particular race

Yes, we have the 2012 Olympics on the horizon and all the work associated with it but it'll be a brave boardroom that backs a takeover bid on the strength of winning that particular race.

As Multiplex knows to its cost, building a sports stadium isn't the same as building an office block or a shopping centre. I know every project is unique, but the truth is that there's a wealth of experience in the commercial sector; we have encountered most of these challenges before. Sadly that can't be said for one-offs such as state-of-the-art Olympic stadiums. The risks will inevitably be greater, but that doesn't automatically mean the rewards will be, too.

Anyone looking to improve their prospects of Olympic gold - of the monetary kind - would do well to consider those factors when they come to weighing up the merits of buying another contractor, whatever their credentials.

An alternative might be to join the growing number of firms with FM subsidiaries. These businesses offer lower risk, longer-term income streams, and ones that are likely to grow as more public bodies and private clients seek to reduce their payroll and pensions commitments by outsourcing their building management and maintenance.

The growing PFI market has ensured that FM is not a passing fad. It has given credibility and momentum to what was once considered a peripheral activity and it's added a new and secure dimension to many contractors' earnings. For acquisitive companies looking for a low risk investment I can see a distinct future in Britain's burgeoning FM market …