Leading shareholders of beleaguered support services group Amey are calling for the sale of the company after the announcement on Wednesday of a pre-tax loss of £129.5m in 2002.
Amey confirmed that it aims to continue talks with a potential buyer but rumours remain that rivals such as Alfred McAlpine are considering a break-up of the group.

One shareholder said that he would not support such a step. He said: "I don't want a break-up. I find it hard to see how there could be value made out of a break-up. The company should not be sold off on the cheap."

Another shareholder, who previously supported a break-up, said that this was now unlikely. The shareholder said: "The more likely option is that someone will try to buy the whole company."

Amey chief executive Mel Ewell told Building: "We will be having detailed discussions about Amey with our major shareholders over the next two to three weeks."

Amey chairman Ian Robinson conceded that the company had suffered a disastrous year. He said: "The year 2002 proved a challenging 12 months for Amey. A major restructuring of the company, its management, business operations and financing was required."

The huge loss occurred despite an increase in turnover from £831.4m in 2001 to £917.1m in 2002.

The loss was largely accounted for by asset write-downs totalling £74.8m that were announced in December. Last year, the pre-tax loss was £18.3m.

Amey said that it is now winding down its construction work and would focus on transport and public and private outsourcing businesses. The company added that it still intends buy back its equity stake in the London Underground contract by June.

Alistair Stewart, a construction analyst at Seymour Pierce, said: "Amey has decided to run down its construction contracts, but it is only making a 1.1% margin in what it considers its core businesses.

"The trouble is by pulling out of construction you get a cash outflow, which is bad for a group with £190m of underlying debt."

Acting finance director Eric Tracey said that the construction cash outflow had been accounted for in the 2002 results.