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Graham and Sisk lead Irish invasion

Construction firms from recession-battered Ireland turn to England and Scotland for work

Northern Irish firm Graham Construction is bidding for its first English civil engineering jobs as increasing numbers of firms from the Emerald Isle look to the UK for work.

The £218 million-turnover firm has been invited to tender for the £13.2m M56 Bowden Bridge replacement scheme, together with Carillion, Hochtief, Bam Nuttall and Norwest Holst.

Tenders are due to be submitted by 26July. Work, which is scheduled to take one year to complete, will include the demolition and replacement of the existing Bowden View Bridge at J7 of the M56.

Graham has also pre-qualified for a £20m road improvement works job at the junction of the A41 and A4031 for Sandwell Borough Council in the West Midlands.

Dromore-based Graham won its first job in Scotland in 2003 and has since opened offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

According to business intelligence unit Glenigan, the firm has won £350m of work in Scotland over the past year, the third highest behind Balfour Beatty and Bam Construct.

Graham is one of several Northern and republic of Irish firms targeting jobs in England because there is more work available in this country.

Head of business development for civil engineering Michael Mitchell said: “Generally speaking the Irish market has pretty much dried up and we are looking to replace that.

“Jobs in Ireland are on such a low margin you are not even that keen on winning them.”

He added: “We have grown to be one of the biggest players in Scotland. We are conscious of the fact that we have to start from a low base, but we are now looking to push on in England.”

Figures from Irish trade body the Construction Industry Federation show Irish construction employment declined by 16.5 per cent in 2008, falling from 279,000 to 233,200 people.

The latest purchasing managers’ indexes – where a figure below 50 indicates a decline in output – revealed that the Republic of Ireland construction industry was contracting at a faster rate than its UK counterpart.

A joint venture between Republic of Ireland-based firms Sisk and Roadbridge is up against Carillion, Morrision and a JV of Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est and Vinci Construction’s Grands Projets division for the £130m Glasgow Airport Rail Link.

Tender documents will be issued by the end of June to the four teams.

Nigel Warnes, UK director for large projects at John Sisk & Son said the UK figured very highly on the Irish agenda at the moment.

“In Ireland, Sisk is a big fish in a small pond. Over here it is a much smaller fish in a much bigger pond.

“It is a case of holding our own in Ireland and any growth will come here in the UK. We have got a lot of Irish resources over here now. They are travelling as and when required.”