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WSP cut UK staff as profits fall

WSP Group has said difficulties in its transport and infrastructure division was a primary reason for cutting UK staff and falling profits.

Revenue at the firm fell to £706.9 million in the year ended 31 December 2010 from £723.3m in 2009. Pre-tax profits dropped to £19.2m in 2010 from £25.2m the previous year.

It has also had to cut staff numbers in the UK, though its worldwide workforce remained at the same level.

The group’s UK transport and infrastructure division’s workforce was reduced by 102 to 806 staff in 2010.

Chairman David Taylor said that the group’s 2010 trading year was in line with expectations in a year of varied markets and highlighted the group’s interests in Sweden as a key growth area while the UK market was proving difficult.

He said: “The UK market is expected to remain subdued as a consequence of reduced public sector spending and without a wider compensating recovery in the private sector.

“Despite a challenging market, opportunities are expected to arise as our strong blend of public and private sector clients and experience uniquely positions us to support the expected marriage of private and public sector assets.”

Mr Taylor highlighted evidence of this in the group’s contract wins at Bond Street Crossrail, and the Shard and London Bridge regeneration projects.

The UK contributed 31 per cent of the group’s 2010 revenue compared with 35 per cent in 2009 and while the group saw a “modest recovery” in the property sector, its transport and infrastructure division saw a significant decline.

Chief executive Chris Cole told CN he hopes to see a reemergence of private-public partnerships in 2011.

“We need to see increased movement in the private sector and clarity, or visibility, in the public sector and I think we will see progress in 2011 but it will be back-ended and I would be more optimistic for 2012.

“I think we will see the re-emergence of public and private sector partnerships as the public sector is sitting on great assets and can benefit from that while I would also like to see the banks coming back to the table more, particularly British banks.

Mr Taylor said that the group’s UK industrial process engineering business, WSP CEL, has been restructured and will be integrated into its core UK operations.

He added: “The second half of the year became much more difficult as central and local government and major transport organisations such as the Highways Agency took pre-emptive action against impending spending cuts.

“This resulted in a reduction of workload and the need to restructure parts of our business accordingly.”

However Mr Taylor said that the WSP board is confident that the group will maintain its momentum and performance where economies are currently strong and rapidly take advantage as the more difficult markets improve.

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