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Robertson wants ‘bigger bite’ of civils market

Robertson Group wants a “bigger bite” of the civils market to boost its growth in the coming years, the Scottish contractor’s boss has told Construction News.

The company’s founder and chairman Bill Robertson told CN: “Going forward we’ll be looking at projects with as much of a civils content as construction [content], which will help our growth and give us a broader bite of the market.”

Mr Robertson said this would include doing more work as a principal contractor in the highways and energy sectors.

One example of the company delivering civils schemes was its delivery of the Cuningar Loop river footbridge in Glasgow.

The firm has also recently carried out ground and infrastructure works for a new biomass plant in Killin, central Scotland.

On the construction side, Mr Robertson pointed to the firm’s recent delivery of the £140m Macallan distillery, which involved extensive groundworks, as an example of how it can carry out more of the civils works on such schemes.

The contractor is currently working on the Aberdeen Exhibition Centre, which Mr Robertson said was the company’s “biggest project yet”.

“We’re doing more of that now and more big civils-based projects, so that’s a platform for a bigger bite of the [civils] market,” he said.

Robertson’s turnover increased from £251m to £572m in the three years between March 2014 and March 2017.

Mr Robertson said this period had also seen the profile of the company’s order book change.

“Up until the last couple of years we’ve probably been 70 per cent public sector, 30 per cent private sector, but that’s changed with the bigger projects we’re into now,” he said.

The split has now moved closer to 50:50, according to the chairman.

To provide more growth opportunities for the construction industry in the coming years, Mr Robertson called on the government to spell out the future of the PFI model.

“PF2 has come into life again, but [the industry needs] a bit more certainty on who is going to fund these projects; is it going to be public sector, is it going to be private sector and to which extent, so we can adjust accordingly,” he said.

Robertson’s activity has been heavily focused in Scotland, with some work through its offices in Sheffield, Manchester and the North-east of England.

The company has begun an expansion further south and recently won a 20-year framework agreement with Eastbourne council.

Despite this expansion, the firm’s chairman said it would be “hopping over London” for now and would not be pursuing “growth at any price” though.

“The way we built our company was around accurate estimating, getting as much information as we can to provide a quote, and then satisfy ourselves with what we want out of it in terms of return, and then making sure through the project that’s what we do,” Mr Robertson said.

The industry veteran said he recognised the importance of ensuring the firm’s subcontractors performed well, too.

“We need to employ subcontractors who we know are going to make a fair profit, because they’re going to help us make our profit as well,” he said.

“Between the two, we can grow our companies.”

Robertson’s subcontractors are paid on a “monthly” basis at the moment, according to the chairman.

“We get paid monthly, so subcontractors get paid monthly,” he said.

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