Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing major boost to UK designer Atkins

Project wins in Saudi Arabia and Qatar helped to boost revenues last year for the Middle East division of Atkins, a British engineering and design company that is diversifying its business outside the UAE.

Atkins counts projects including the Burj Al Arab, the Dubai Metro, Etihad Rail, and Central Market in Abu Dhabi in its portfolio of work.

"We had significant wins in Qatar [and] in the kingdom," said Richard Barrett, the chief executive of the Atkins office in the Middle East.

The projects Atkins is working on in Qatar include infrastructure developments and it is also designing the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

Atkins achieved a 22 per cent increase in revenue in the Middle East, which reached £171.4 million (Dh976.9m) for the financial year to the end of March compared with the previous year. Its number of employees in the region increased by 26.8 per cent to stand at 1,972 at the end of the financial year compared with 1,555 the year before.

Operating margins and profits were down, however, reflecting the fact the company managed to secure a large amount of overdue payments from clients the previous year, Atkins said. As a result, operating profit fell 29.4 per cent from £23.8m to £16.8m.

The company said it made "exceptional debt recoveries of around £8m in the year ended 31 March 2011".

Staffing levels have still to return to levels achieved before the economic downturn, when it had some 3,000 employees, Mr Barrett said. "We had a couple of years of staffing numbers going down and now we [have] had 12 months of solid growth in the headcount."

Within that period, the company workforce in Doha grew from fewer than 100 employees to more than 300 employees.

"I would expect that to continue to grow and would be disappointed if we didn't get to 500 before the end of the year," Mr Barrett said.

Qatar staging the Fifa World Cup football tournament in 2022 is one of the factors driving this growth, Mr Barrett said.

As well as geographic diversification, Atkins is also becoming less dependent on the property market and has a number of rail projects, including the metros in Mecca, Kuwait, and Qatar.

"We remain active in the property design market, working on projects such as the Central Market in Abu Dhabi, although we expect this sector to represent a reducing proportion of our workload going forward," Atkins said.

"Market sentiment continues to improve," it added. "We have a good order book and are looking confidently towards the future in this region.

"We will need to manage the ebb and flow of major projects where timing remains unpredictable and resource planning challenging."

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