Embattled consultant Atkins has insisted that its underlying performance is strong, despite posting an interim pre-tax loss of £32.8m for the six months to 30 September.
At its half-year results last week, the firm said its order books were full and that it expected to make a full-year profit of £15m. The company's turnover was £449.2m for the six months, up 15% from £385.3m on the same period last year.

Chairman and acting chief executive Mike Jeffries said that the firm, plagued by billing and debt collection problems, made an adjusted pre-tax loss of £2.5m before bid costs, debt amortisation and exceptional items.

Jeffries said the company is "just about on top of" the billing of its clients, which should improve the group's cash flow. But he added that he was not expecting a significant change in the company's debt level, currently running at £105.4m, more than treble the £31.6m of the same period last year.

Jeffries said he expected negligible redundancies on top of the 400 announced in October, and that the company was on the lookout for 200 additional engineers for its transport division.

He revealed that the group would interview four candidates for chief executive next month. Robin Southwell, the previous incumbent, resigned after Atkins announced that problems with the adoption of an accounting system had led to losses of £140m.

Jeffries presented the shortlist to the main board at the end of November.

He said: "All the candidates are external. They're either from the industry or on the periphery of it." A new chief executive is not likely to be in place for several months.