Costain says it will increasingly target blue-chip clients as part of its recovery plan after last year's £61m pre-tax loss.

Andrew Wyllie, the chief executive, said it would seek “long-term quality over short-term quantity” and pointed to frameworks with BAA, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in 2007 as the way ahead.

He made his comments as the company announced a return to the black with a pre-tax profit of £19.8m in the year ended 31 December 2007. Last year’s loss followed write-downs against contract claims in the building division. The news prompted it to deliver a dividend of 0.5p, the first in 17 years.

Turnover dipped from £886m to £878m and the order book fell from £1.8bn in 2006 to £1.6bn as the group pushed for higher-end clients.