French construction giant in talks to agree final terms for £181m-turnover contractor

French construction giant Bouygues was lining up to buy struggling £181m-turnover contractor Haymills, as Building went to press.

Haymills, which employs 700 staff and specialises in the commercial and residential markets in London and East Anglia, was forced to look for outside investment after its lender RBS froze its bank account last month.

A source close to the situation confirmed Bouygues was talking to Haymills and both sides were trying to agree final terms. A Haymills spokesperson declined to comment and Bouygues was unavailable for comment.

Along with Vinci and Balfour Beatty, Bouygues is one of the few cash-rich contractors that could afford to buy Haymills. It is known to be acquisition-hungry and would be able to negotiate favourable terms, given the urgent nature of the sale.

The size of Haymills’ debt was not disclosed but a company spokesperson said it was operating with a £3m cushion when RBS pulled the plug.

RBS moved the goalposts and knocked the wind out of us

Haymills spokesperson

He said: “RBS moved the goalposts and knocked the wind out of us. It was in the same week that I read a five-page article in the Mail on Sunday about how it was helping small and medium-sized businesses. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, clearly.”

It is understood that staff wages at Haymills are about a week in arrears and that many unpaid subcontractors have agreed to hold off filing winding-up petitions until there is a resolution. The spokesperson for the firm, which includes Cambridge University, the National Trust and the Ministry of Defence among its clients, said: “It’s been great how so many of our subcontractors have stood shoulder to shoulder with us throughout this.”

In the year to 31 March 2008, the company had £6.3m in cash, but the spokesperson said: “A lot can happen in a year”. He denied there was one problem job that had led to the company’s current financial difficulty; rather, it is understood contractual disagreements on several jobs contributed to its position.

Bouygues has been conservative in its UK acquisitions since it entered the country 12 years ago, despite pressure from its head office to grow the business. In December 2007 it bought south-coast contractor Warings for £30m, but has not done a deal since then.