Consultant's Hong Kong and UK offices hold meetings by video as virus epidemic shows no signs of abating.
Consultant Babtie has imposed an informal ban on travel to and from its office in Hong Kong because of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

Directors in Asia have held board meetings using video links because of the difficulties created by quarantine measures in the UK.

Babtie chief executive Bill Mitchell said: "What we're not doing is allowing people to go back and forth. The other day we had a meeting through video conference with people in Hong Kong, Croydon and Scotland."

Mitchell said that Sars was likely to hit its Asian business in the short term but that the economy should regain momentum.

He said: "At the moment there isn't the same movement around Hong Kong, but we would hope it would all be over in two to three months."

Babtie's projects in Hong Kong include remedial works to the seawater intake of a power station and the design of infrastructure at a theme park. The firm, which is privately owned, has 400 staff at its Hong Kong office.

About 14% of the company's £170m turnover is generated by overseas business. Babtie hopes to obtain some work in Iraq because of businesses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Mitchell said: "The scale of work in Iraq suggests that there will be enough to go round."

Mitchell made his comments after the announcement of Babtie's results for the 12 months to 31 December.

The group reported a pre-tax profit of £5.2m, an increase of 75% on 2001. It reduced its gearing from 84% to 28%; year-end net debt dropped £7m to £4.7m.

The results are part of the group's three-year plan, launched last year, to achieve organic growth of 8% a year. Turnover grew 14.7% to £170m in 2002, a result that exceeded the management's expectations.

Mitchell said that investment in staff had fuelled growth. He said: "A graduate scheme was launched in 2002 and it is fully operational and involved 286 graduates. We also began development work on a senior management training programme and started the process of introducing flexible benefit packages for staff."