Edinburgh-based construction group Miller hopes to buy a rival housebuilder in 2004
Chief executive Keith Miller said that the group could boost its housing arm with a £50-100m acquisition, but has not ruled out smaller or larger firms.

The group has looked at four housebuilders in the past 18 months, and has decided that its main interest would be a firm based in the south of England.

Miller said: "We are looking for the right value of firm. We have a strong balance sheet and have brought down our debt levels quite substantially over the past 18 months. We are not afraid of buying in the quoted sector."

Miller added that the group has recently opened a southern region, with a headquarters in Basingstoke. The group aims to turn this into a £50m turnover business within three years. A managing director and a land director for the region will start work next week.

The group also intends to grow its property arm through acquisition. This would either be a company or a major site ripe for commercial development. Miller said: "We are still anxious to get another big property deal under our belt. We have sold a lot of development land of late."

Miller was speaking after the privately-run group had announced its trading statement earlier this week. The statement said that its 2003 annual results, to be announced in March, will show the company's 10th successive year of turnover growth.

It said turnover is expected to have increased 15% on 2002, to £750m. Forward housing sales are set to have gone up £35m to £180m, and the construction order book is due to have risen £17m to £307m.

n In a trading statement this week, contractor Carillion said that Network Rail's decision to take rail maintenance contracts in-house could reduce its operating profit £7m this year and £15m in 2005 and beyond. The firm will also have to write-down a proportion of the rail business' current value.

However, the group expects to deliver a 2003 pre-tax profit of not less than the £50m achieved in 2002.

Carillion has also received an exceptional profit of £11m from the sale of its equity stake in the Darent Valley PPP hospital project.