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Britain's best specialist contractor in action at the Aurora development in Glasgow
Britain's best specialist contractor in action at the Aurora development in Glasgow

Cementation foundations Skanska
Money, as we know, talks. You might think much of what it says is a bit crass, but it can be interesting when you get it onto the subject of why it prefers some businesses to others. Take the winners of this category for example: its turnover has risen by almost 40% in the past year. One reason for the attraction is that clients who employ Cementation once tend to do so twice: 85% of its business is with repeat customers. The customers come back primarily because the firm has a fine track record of delivering this most critical of all works packages on time and to budget, without damaging any of its staff (its accident rate is less than 10% of last year’s industry average, an achievement market by the awarding of a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents gold award). And if it’s true that a good financial performance reflects a well-run business, then you’d expect this to show up in other areas. Well it does: Cementation has a fine record of research into ways of improving what it does, from the re-use of foundations to piles with built-in heat exchangers, to which end it has continuous academic and research support from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Surrey, Southampton, Newcastle and London. Enough said?

Runners up

Abbey pynford
I don’t know if you remember the old BBC serial The Life and Loves of a She Devil, but part of it was set in a grade II-listed lighthouse near Beachy Head in East Sussex. After 20 ft of the cliff collapsed into the sea recently, there was a real and present danger that the lighthouse would follow it: it was 10 ft away from the cliff edge. So the owners, Mark and Louise Roberts, decided to move it a bit inland: all 850 tons of it. Who did they call to take on this feat? None other than Abbey Pynford, who duly moved it. Perfectly.

Bachy soletanche
Bachy Soletanche is the second largest ground engineering company in Britain. Which is surprising, because it is also the second fastest growing: turnover has risen an astonishing 53% in the past year. As with all of the shortlisted contractors, the firm claims a strong reputation for technical innovation, but it backs this up with a whacking £10m investment in research and development. Add to this engineering excellence and an awareness of the partnering skills needed for new construction and you have a formidable organisation.

Expanded piling
As schoolboys, civil engineers and those Mastermind contestants who have taken the history of piling as their specialised subject know, Expanded Piling is the firm that planted Britain’s first bored pile in 1919. Since then it has established itself as one of the country’s most profitable and best-run piling contractors. Don’t just take it from us – ask Ray O’Rourke: he’s just bought it from Carillion. And as we know by now, that Mr O’Rourke is a good judge when it comes to buying companies …

Stent foundations
Balfour Beatty’s Stent is the fourth biggest piling firm in the country, and has a reputation for delivering really big projects, such as the St Pancras terminal of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and really high-profile ones, such as the horrendous Westminster station job and the new Arsenal stadium. And as piling is a technology-led sector, relative to much of the rest of the industry, Stent excels in harnessing the latest techniques to improve client value – from integrated rigs to its handheld roving piling assistant (see the innovations category on page 15 for more on this).

Van elle
Despite the name, this is a British company founded in 1984 by Mike Ellis – who has just handed over the running of the business to Mick Hughes. And it is a young company in a hurry: Hughes has big plans to increase turnover from £32m to £45m in three years, and a big push is planned in north-east England and Scotland. In terms of industry sectors, it is hoping to persuade housebuilders that piling is a better idea than conventional concrete foundations. Expect this firm to become a real force in the industry in the next five years.