The board of Laing had considered selling its construction division for at least five years prior to its sale for £1 in 2001 to Ray O’Rourke.

This is one of a series of claims made by the company’s former executive chairman Sir Martin Laing – the great-grandson of the company’s founder – in an interview with Building this week.

Sir Martin also said he was not to blame for the construction division’s disastrous performance in the 18 months to three years leading to the sale, despite his resulting resignation as chairman.

He added that he had toyed with the idea of turning Laing into a specialist concessions business – effectively what it has become since the sale – in the early 1990s.

Laing said the board had decided to sell the business prior to the difficulties that led to £196m of operating losses over three years, because of the industry’s low profit margins.

He said: “We always wanted to sell the construction business – for five, six, seven years. The risk-reward ratios were all wrong.”

The 2001 sale was largely the result of poor performances on two key contracts.

Laing said that although he “took the fall” for the problems, they were not directly his fault. He said: “The fact I went and picked up so many jobs afterwards seems to mean that people didn’t think I was to blame. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t to blame.”