Opinion: French firms aim for UK conquest

Aaron Morby 12 years ago
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France’s big two contractors have their sights set on expansion in the UK this year.

Both Bouygues and Vinci are stepping up their game at a time when the building sector is contracting fast and firms are looking for quality rather than volume orders.

Vinci has grown particularly aggressive in its bidding and now boasts a tender hit rate of one in three jobs.

This year the firm expects to deliver 11% growth in turnover  as a raft of big jobs come through the pipeline.

In such a competitive construction market this is no mean feat and is a warning to all those battling for decent margins in the £10m-plus building market.

Bouygues’ move to buy independent Midlands builder Thomas Vale yesterday is also a concern for mainstream rivals.

Given Bouygues standing in world construction, its presence in the UK has been relatively understated until now. Despite bidding for several major projects in recent years it has failed to secure the high profile work it expected.

But Bouygues has been quietly building up its presence at a local level, buying solid regional firms like Leadbitter.

It now boasts serious capability here and is set to use its muscle to become a significant force.

There is a strong sense of deja vu about all this.

More than a decade ago the UK building materials industry looked robust, with world leading brands like Redland, RMC and Pilkington appearing untouchable.

Now the industry is dominated by French giants Lafarge and St Gobain, and the home spun building materials companies have all but vanished.

France’s two leading contractors appear to have similar ambitions.

The nuclear power station building programme, led by French power client EDF, is a big draw and both firms are known to be eyeing the opportunities keenly.

Their growth is more by stealth than swashbuckling corporate takeover, but the end result could still be the same.

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