Chris Cole, chief executive of WSP, was careful not to be drawn on the thorny subject of bad debt in the Middle East, as he announced the engineer’s half-year results this week
When asked about his talks with UAE developers and the possibility of fee cuts, he wisely offered a “no comment”.
Others have been more vocal. The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) wrote to business secretary Peter Mandelson in May asking him to put pressure on the UAE over the delicate matter of the £400m or so owed to UK consultants.
At the time, Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the ACE, said: “We have to remain sensitive … as we try to address the current difficulties”. But, according to one source in Dubai, the intervention threw a spanner in the works. “Over here, things like reputation, face and honour count for everything.”
Well, such concepts tend to be easier to admire when they are backed up by plentiful petrodollars. As we are witnessing with structural steel specialist Panceltica, which may be taken over by its Middle Eastern shareholders including Qatari developer Barwa after a spat that was as unpleasant as it was lengthy, even honourable relationships can go through a bit of a rough patch.