Highly rated British engineering groups, such as WS Atkins and Amec Foster Wheeler, attract foreign suitors following sterling's dip

Tracey Boles
Young Apprentices Begin Working At Cammell Laird Shipyard
Do not been surprised if an apparently sleeping US giant suddenly wakes up and swoops by acquiring a stake in a British firm (Source: Getty)

Britain's engineers have long had a gold-plated reputation. As the UK gears up for a raft of infrastructure projects from new nuclear reactors to high speed rail, they remain in high demand.

US engineering giants eyeing the UK’s infrastructure plans want a slice of the action. Those who keep cropping up in major bids include CH2M, Bechtel and Aecom.

CH2M may recently have become embroiled in controversy due to alleged conflict of interest around HS2, but the furore is masking the scale of its achievement in the UK. Boosted by its success as a supplier to the 2012 London Olympics and Crossrail 1, the consulting and engineering group has grown from hundreds of workers here to thousands in just half a dozen years.

Read more: Rolls-Royce launches partnership to build fleet of mini nuclear reactors

With contracts due to be meted out for HS2 and Hinkley Point C, other global giants would love to emulate its trajectory.

However, organic growth takes time. A quicker way of acquiring highly rated British engineers and expertise is to buy it. This means firms such as WS Atkins and Amec Foster Wheeler are potentially in play, particularly as they look cheap to overseas bidders due to sterling’s post-referendum dip.

Read more: Shares in engineering group GKN close down on slowing growth warning

Amec has already had an offer from fellow British oil services firm John Wood Group, one which has been approved by its board and would create a UK engineering champion. Shareholders are set to vote on the £5bn tie up in June.

But do not been surprised if an apparently sleeping US giant suddenly wakes up and swoops by acquiring a stake in a British firm. Amec, with its strong pipeline of contracts, is a prime asset and could easily become the focus of a bidding war if a US interloper pounces. Industry insiders say it is a distinct possibility although no talks are believed to have taken place.

Read more: Winning HS2 bidder has to develop generation of UK engineering skills

Snapping up a large stake in a company like Amec with a view to a takeover may look opportunistic but it would actually be a great vote of confidence in Britain’s infrastructure plans, and its engineering talent, just when it needs a boost in the run up to Brexit. If it doesn’t happen to Amec, it will likely happen to another UK engineering firm.

Such investment should be welcomed.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles