WSP’s chief executive has said the company will transfer hundreds of British staff to the Middle East if the economic downturn continues

Chris Cole said the consultant engineer could move up to 250 UK staff to the region within a year, joining its 800-strong workforce.

Speaking after announcing WSP’s results for the six months to 30 June 2008, Cole said: “We have transferred 100 people there from other parts of the world. It’s not difficult getting people to move when they get the same salary but pay no tax and their accommodation is free.”

Cole said staff could also work on Middle East projects while remaining in the UK. He said: “Where margins are tight in some parts of the business, staff can be used to serve the Middle East, principally in front-end design work.”

Turnover at WSP in the Middle East and North Africa is forecast to grow from £65m to £100m in three years and WSP is already at full capacity in the region.

Among its schemes is the City of Arabia development in Dubai (pictured), for which WSP is providing building services and structural design.

It’s not difficult getting people to move when they get the same salary tax free

Chris Cole, WSP Chief Executive

Over the half-year period, pre-tax profit at WSP rose 43% from £16.1m to £23m. Turnover at the group, which is the engineer on the £400m Shard of Glass project in London, was up 40% from £259.8m to £363.5m.

Cole said: “That kind of results in this kind of market makes you feel good. It underpins our diversification strategy.”

In the UK Cole said the company was suffering as a result of the “soft spots that are obvious to everyone”. He added: “The private sector is a bit tricky to say the least, but the public sector is fine.”

The consensus forecast for the full-year is pre-tax profit of £48.5m on turnover of £666m.

Francesca Raleigh, an analyst at Numis Securities, said the results were good but risks included staff retention, the public sector spending cycles and the impact of a global property downturn.