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29Oct92 UK: TOUGH LESSONS OF TENDERING.

'I cannot believe anybody is making profits on current contracts,' says Jarvis chairman Harvey Bard, who offered some instructive thoughts on the current tendering climate following the company's results last week.Under current conditions Mr Bard contends that only one in three contracts put out to tender now offers the successful bidder a profit from the outset.'Most people are going in at the negative margins,' he says. 'And if you are prepared to play that game you have got to be selective.''You don't want bad jobs and you don't want ones that are totally negative with no possible chance of improvement.'But even where there is scope to turn a contract 'positive' it can be a hazardous business. 'You can better it by your savings but you are working from behind all the time,' he says. Jarvis also finds margins better on smaller jobs.'It's a question of how much you want the job. We are standing back a little bit and trying to choose our work but that means you get a much reduced availability of work,' he laments.Hence the fall in Jarvis's first half turnover of £41 million from £68 million last time.Jarvis's experience with the speculative office contracts which accounted for much of the company;s first half loss may also hold lessons for other contractors tempted to join the rush to buy the remains of failed rivals from the receivers. Two of the three contracts were former J Elliott jobs and of a type where Jarvis had previously had a modest presence.