Contractor carries out due diligence on Carillion subsidiary – and is now on lookout for cladding firm.
Ray O'Rourke is in talks to buy Carillion-owned specialist contractor Expanded Piling.

The move is O'Rourke's first attempted acquisition in the sector since he bought Laing Construction for £1 in 2001, creating the Laing O'Rourke brand.

A Carillion spokesperson confirmed that Laing O'Rourke is carrying out due diligence on Expanded Piling.

The spokesperson said a deal would fit well with Carillion's future development strategy. He said: "Part of Carillion's strategy has been to move away from the dirty end of the market, such as plant and piling, and into systems and services. The sale fits into that."

Laing O'Rourke refused to comment on the deal.

The deal is intended to expand Laing O'Rourke's repertoire of in-house skills. At present it has capability in plant, precast concrete, joinery, stonework and steel frames.

Sources close to the deal said that O'Rourke was looking to further expand its services by purchasing a cladding specialist.

Laing O'Rourke issues one set of combined results. In August last year, it revealed that the group made a pre-tax profit of £44.1m for the year to 31 March 2002 from turnover of £597.1m – a high margin for a contractor.

Carillion is moving away from the dirty end of the market. The sale fits into that

Carillion spokesperson

In the 12 months to March 2001, concrete contractor O'Rourke's profit was £5m and its turnover stood at £176.8m.

Before the Laing takeover, Ray O'Rourke's acquired an ailing concrete frame specialist in 2000. The firm, Swift Structures, was owned by his brothers-in-law and bought by a separate holding company at a nominal price. O'Rourke "cherry-picked" Swift's projects, but did not try to run the company as a going concern.

Expanded Piling, which has a turnover of about £20m, went with Carillion when it left Tarmac in the late 1990s.

Its history dates back to 1825, and a company called F Smith & Son, which specialised in drilling boreholes for water.

In 1919, F Smith undertook its first concrete piling work and pioneered the bored piling method.