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Consultant seeks American expansion following its aborted merger with Bovis WS Atkins targets US for major acquisition

Finance

CONSULTANT and facilities manager WS Atkins is looking for a large US acquisition to grow the business in the wake of its failed Bovis merger.

Michael Jeffries, chief executive, said Atkins had up to £60 million to spend on expansion.

The growth plans are part of a group-wide restructuring which started in April with the reorganisation of Atkins into distinct business streams.

Mr Jeffries said: 'In the UK we will look for small, bolt-on acquisitions to strengthen our technical capability. But in the US we're looking for something more significant, perhaps a business employing 500 to 1,000 staff.'

The firm has identified candidates that would complement its three mainstream businesses - property, transport, management and industry.

Atkins last week unveiled a 20 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £32.6 million in the year to March 31 on a turnover up by 16 per cent to £425.7 million. Mr Jeffries said the firm had experienced a year of two different halves, with the first six months marred by low business confidence and strategic procurement reviews by big spending customers such as Railtrack and the Ministry of Defence.

'Most of this is completed and demand is growing. There is increased confidence in the UK and, more particularly, in south-east Asia.'

Atkins believes its management and industry division will provide strong growth in the future as big industrial clients seek services around the world.