WS Atkins engineers big profit after shift away from property

Profits of WS Atkins in the Middle East rise by 70 per cent thanks to successful debt recovery and a diversification of work.

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uccessful debt recovery and a move into infrastructure work helped to drive profits up by 70 per cent for the Middle East operations of WS Atkins, the UK engineering consultancy.

Operating profit accelerated to £23.8 million (Dh140.9m) in the financial year ending March 31, up from £14m in the same period last year, the company said yesterday.

"These are a strong set of results which show our strategy is working," said Richard Barrett, the regional managing director. "We've successfully diversified the business in recent years from being entirely property focused into broader infrastructure, transportation and planning services."

Reduced activity in the property market meant the company shed 16.7 per cent of its staff during the year, cutting its headcount from 1,867 to 1,555, Atkins said. It also transferred about 100 of its staff to its energy sector.

Staff numbers had now "stabilised" and Atkins was actively recruiting once again to support growth in key markets and sectors, said Mr Barrett.

The company is increasingly moving away from its focus on Dubai building design to serve a broader infrastructure market. It is positioning itself to secure more airport, rail, defence, planning and management consultancy work, Atkins said. Infrastructure, planning and consultancy currently represent 69 per cent of the company's order book.

Atkins has been involved in some of the UAE's largest projects including the Dubai Metro - both its red and green lines - and the 1,300km Etihad Rail project in Abu Dhabi,intended to become a key link in the country's goods distribution network.

Atkins has been expanding its footprint regionally, with 64 per cent of its order book outside the UAE. It is the lead designer and programme manager for a new 30 million passenger-capacity terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

The company is confident about growth prospects for next year. Its order book as of March 31 included a total of 89 per cent of budgeted revenue for the current financial year. Although political unrest in parts of the region could interrupt its business, to date the instability had only had a minor impact on its Bahrain business.

Globally, operating profit rose 7.5 per to £118.7m.