Going it alone

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Britain’s QS sector has changed dramatically, with the foreign takeover of big-name firms prompting entrepreneurial types to start up on their own. Have these challenger firms become the new establishment?

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Cost consultant Alinea, believe it or not, is five years old this month. The business, which was started by a group of former Davis Langdon and EC Harris partners, was one of a number born out of a torrent of change that struck UK consultants during the credit crunch.

This wave swept up the most venerable consulting names in the UK industry. Both Davis Langdon and EC Harris were bought up by foreign engineering giants – Aecom and Arcadis respectively – changing them irrevocably. As the effects of the recession continued to be felt, Currie & Brown and Sweett Group met a similar fate, both mopped up by Dar Group. 

Former Davis Langdon (DL) partner Iain Parker, one of the founders of Alinea, says: “The landscape for cost consultants changed dramatically. We saw a once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace these household name QSs that were being bought up.”

“I don’t need big banks of data on past prices; I just need people with their finger on the pulse of what’s happening right now”

Phil Sullivan, Pier 22

Parker was not alone in this view, with other senior staff leaving to set up challenger firms such as Core Five, Cast and Exigere, among many more. Meanwhile those mid-tier businesses that managed to remain independent during the recession – the likes of Gardiner & Theobald (G&T), Turner & Townsend and Gleeds – have also been working hard to take advantage of the turmoil. 

So now, with the tempest of change long past, how much long-term impact has the storm of 2010-13 had on the landscape for UK QS and project management firms? Have the challenger firms succeeded in becoming the new establishment?

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