Speakers at Building's Business Leaders Forum slam House of Lords committee finding that immigration had little benefit to the UK

Speaking at Building’s inaugural Business Leaders Forum in London on Tuesday, Murray Coleman, chief executive of Bovis Lend Lease, said he greeted the findings of the House of Lords economic affairs committee report with “disbelief”.

He said: “To conclude that immigration has a neutral effect on UK industry – which includes construction – is something I struggle to understand. The real risk is that we will discourage the unskilled people that we need to enter the UK industry.”

The government maintains that immigration has contributed an estimated £6bn each year to the UK economy.

Also at forum, former MP Michael Portillo sounded a warning note about the progress of high-profile public projects during the current downturn.

He said it was inevitable that major infrastructure projects, including Crossrail, would be delayed because the current £40bn level of government borrowing of couldn’t be extended.

In his speech to the forum, Coleman predicted that the recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions would “continue over the next 24 months, particularly if the credit crunch’s effects continues”.

Pascal Minault, chair of Bouygues UK, agreed and said the UK contracting market would follow the French trend towards a handful of huge players in coming years. France is dominated by three large companies – Bouygues, Vinci and Eiffage – which over £13.1bn, £17.8bn and £8.7bn respectively.

Minault said: “Below the big three you have companies with turnovers of about€*1bn (£788m) but there’s no room for national mid-sized contractors. In the regions you have local champions that survive because owners don’t want to sell up.”

Francis Ives, chairman of Cyril Sweett, which has made three acquisitions in the past two weeks, was cautious about the involvement of private equity cash in the industry.

He said the consultant considered raising money through private equity as an alternative to flotation on the stock exchange last year. “Private equity is like a big black bear. As long as you feed it, it’s ok. If not, it will eat you.”