Ove Arup executive tipped to head rebuilding taskforce says estimates of £50bn of work exaggerated.
The man tipped to head the government taskforce to help UK firms win work in Kosovo has warned contractors that there will be no "rich pickings" in rebuilding the region.

Ove Arup & Partners deputy chairman Nigel Thompson, who is expected to be appointed chairman of the taskforce later this week, said estimates of £50bn worth of work were inaccurate, adding that British firms would have to form consortia to work in the region.

Thompson said: "It's a question of providing a service. It's not the same situation as Kuwait. The Kuwaitis had a lot of money. There's much more damage to the infrastructure here. There will also be security problems and the money for the rebuilding will have to come from the World Bank and Nato." Thompson, who worked in Kuwait in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, said he had not yet received an official approach to lead the taskforce but added that he would be happy to take on the job.

He downplayed fears that US companies were set to steal a march on British firms following peace talks this week. "They were keen in Kuwait because of the oil money. There isn't the same incentive here," he said.

"Firms and consultants will have to work together in Kosovo. It's not a question of British firms competing for plum jobs. It's a matter of identifying an area [of the country] for contractors and consultants to bring their skills together to rebuild." He added: "Consortia are the best way of dealing with the situation because contracts in Kosovo won't be that lucrative." Alick Goldsmith, director of the Export Group for Constructional Industries, echoed Thompson's view.

He said: "It's best to be cautious because nobody at this stage really knows what's going on. We need to assess what needs to be done and how much of it can be done with local firms. Hopefully, there will be some good opportunities for British firms but it's early days yet." However, a spokesman for Amec, which worked in a consortium with Taylor Woodrow and Wimpey in Kuwait, said Kosovo could prove to be a lucrative market for infrastructure specialists.

The spokesman said: "There is an awful lot of work to do there and a lot of it is very specialist. I think there's some good business to be had, and decent margins. We will look at the options, and if we believe there is mileage in the contracts, we'll be interested in doing them." Claude Adams, executive director of the British Consultants Bureau, said the BCB had held meetings with Kosovar expatriates in the UK who wanted to form alliances with British firms and consultants to start rebuilding the region.

Adams said: "Seventy per cent of the work carried out in Bosnia was done with local companies. We want to be hands-on with Kosovan firms."