Business barometer Contractor keeps top spot thanks to £181m Wolverhampton prison job

Kier came top of the contractor’s league for the second month running thanks to the £181m, 1,620-place Featherstone prison in Wolverhampton.

No wonder it flagged up the importance of its 52 public and private framework deals at a trading update on Monday. Its other wins in October included a £18m Decent Homes deal in Suffolk.

“These frameworks will help us to maintain our workloads at least through to 2011 and beyond,” the contractor told the City.

The news prompted analysts at stockbroker Cazenove to say: “We are increasingly of the view that there is a two-tier UK construction market emerging: those with and those without frameworks. Kier (has) the luxury of not having to chase revenue at low margins as is the case for those competing in the largely fixed-price non-framework market.”

The point is reinforced when civils work is taken into account. Amey tops this leaderboard on the basis of two deals with Network Rail worth a combined £302m.

A £50m project for the same client helped Carillion reach the number two spot.

Overall, the top 30 contractors in the non-civils table won 275 projects worth £1.7bn, almost identical to a year ago. Arguably it’s not the best comparison: October 2008 was, after all, the month that Garvis Snook, the Rok chief executive, said the industry’s “lights went out”. Rewind 12 more months to October 2007 and the top 30 won 363 jobs worth £2.3bn, which is about a third more than this year.

Balfour Beatty continued its rise as the UK’s largest contractor by winning 40 deals worth £177.6m, including two in education: a £77m student accommodation deal for Exeter University; and a £57m deal for the National Academies Framework in Lincolnshire.

In third spot was Sir Robert McAlpine, with wins that included a £92m indoor sports arena and velodrome for Glasgow council and a £50m business school and student hub for Manchester Metropolitan University.