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Keller sends UK staff down under

Ground engineering firm Keller is offering UK staff jobs in Australia to combat the poor market conditions in this country.

The Australian market is booming in the wake of the government’s Nation Building plan, which will see £21 billion invested in infrastructure between 2009 and 2014.

Keller has been on the acquisition trail in Australia and has built the firm to become the leading ground engineer in the country.

Employees that don’t fancy another long winter carrying out early works in the UK could swap it all for a job on a large mine filling project just a short drive from the Gabba in Brisbane, where England will face Australia in the Ashes opener in November.

Alternatively, they could work for Waterway Constructions, the New South Wales firm it acquired just two months ago.

Keller chief executive Julian Atkinson said: “A handful of UK-based staff have already moved to Australia, where we have a significant amount of work.

“We expect some more site staff to move over to work on a large mine fill project at Ipswich in Queensland.”

He added: “Some staff to have previously worked there on a temporary basis never came back.”

During the economic downturn, Keller has reduced its UK headcount from more than 600 to around 400.

The firm’s UK turnover fell to £28.1 million in the six months to 30 June 2010, down by £2.6m from the same period last year.

A large proportion of Keller’s UK revenue comes from the housing sector, which has seen its recovery stall in recent months.

Mr Atkinson said: “The housing upturn seen at the start of the year has now evaporated.

“We expect the retail market to be solid and give us some protection until some Crossrail projects come on stream at the back end of 2011.
“In all, we expect the UK market to remain difficult well into next year.”

Both the US and UK markets were unprofitable for Keller during the first six months of the year.

The UK business generated an operating loss of £0.1m, which still marked an improvement on the £0.4m operating loss at the same stage in 2009, while the US business reported an operating loss of £1m compared with a profit of £18.6m a year earlier.

The Australian business was the best performing part of the group, with revenues up to £80.7m from £62.8m and operating profit rising to £8m from £6.2m.

Keller is trading in line with expectations at present, following a reappraisal of its fortunes earlier in the year.

It revealed in May that profits in the US and the UK would be hit by poor weather and weak demand.

This sent its shares into a tailspin, falling from £7.83 before the warning in May to a low of £5.22 in July.