Jam tomorrow - but it's bread and butter today

Tom broughton 2017 bw

As the core contracting sector gets to grips with what has happened in the first three months of this year, you can hardly blame them for taking a more cautious approach

Quite a beginning to the year, don’t you think? The first quarter of 2018 has been dominated by the fall of that great lumbering giant Carillion and the aftershocks of its collapse that have hit the wider contracting market. To fathom the turmoil of that event and its consequences for other contractors’ finances, our review of the annual results season makes for essential reading.

Not that it’s all grim news. Consider the scale of the turnaround that Balfour Beatty under Leo Quinn has achieved. With Carillion now gone, Balfour Beatty is the only real mega-contractor in town, with a turnover in excess of £8bn – more than double its nearest competitors. And despite the ongoing market turbulence, and difficulties of its own, it still managed to post a profit of £117m last year. It could so easily have been very different. In 2015 the firm posted a £304m loss – a result Quinn cites as the firm’s “darkest hour”.

It put the firm perilously close to the precipice – eight profit warnings and a £600m cash outflow in nine months, according to Quinn, who came on board that year. He was quick to diagnose the problems, then rolled up his sleeves and got on with the job of sorting them out. Fundamentally, it was about the company’s attitude to risk. “The management we had that got us into the mess has moved and we have more energy and better discipline. Culturally, we are in a very different place,” he said. 

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