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Fight on for year-end supremacy

Big contract wins will fall out of Laing O'Rourke's 12-month rolling total soon, opening up the race to be top firm of 2005

IS LAING O'Rourke's position at the head of the annual contractors' top 50 as safe as it seems going into the penultimate month of the year?

Laing O'Rourke has won £2.2 billion-worth of work over the past 12 months.

That total is up on the £1.9 billion pocketed by Laing O'Rourke last year, which made Ray O'Rourke's empire the most successful contractor in terms of work won in 2004, according to Emap Glenigan.

With only two months of 2005 left and the firm £924 million ahead of Balfour Beatty in the annual table, Laing O'Rourke's lead looks impregnable.

What may make the race more interesting is that a number of large retail and private housing projects ? sectors where Laing O'Rourke is a market leader ? are due to drop out of the firm's 12-month total before the year-end.

Laing O'Rourke's annual order book has been relatively static recently as overall construction activity slows, according to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply.

In contrast, annual league totals are growing at many of Laing O'Rourke's major rivals.

Apart from Laing O'Rourke, seven other major contractors ? Balfour Beatty, Bovis Lend Lease, Kier, Carillion, HBG, Costain and Mowlem ? have annual order books over £1 billion.

HBG topped the monthly table with seven contract wins totalling more than £260 million in October but Laing O'Rourke had a quiet month, only winning £40 million-worth of work.

This total left Laing O'Rourke outside of the monthly top 20 and trailing behind smaller players such as Apollo London, William Verry and Scottish outfit Barr.

Barr edged further up the annual contractors' top 50 after bagging more than £41 million-worth of work in October including two road jobs ? bearing out boss Tony Rush's recent decision to return to this sector.

The biggest deal in Barr's hat trick was a new type of public private partnership, worth £80 million and known as a non-profit distributing organisation, for Argyll & Bute Council.

Barr is one of two contractors on the deal. The other is Balfour Beatty and this deal helped propel the firm into second spot.