Europe - in or out? Infrastructure debates the options

Two of the world’s leading international consultancies had contrasting views on whether it was vital for the UK to vote yes to stay in Europe in the forthcoming referendum. Bosses of AECOM and Mott MacDonald gave their opinions at last week’s ACE International Conference.

European flag

Giving the public a say on whether to be part of Europe or quit will be a central plank of legislation being announced in today’s Queen’s Speech. The government is already starting to attempt a renegotiation of our current entry terms in order to present a fresh European deal to the public in a referendum which is promised at the latest by next year.

"It won’t be disastrous for us as a business if we left Europe” - Haigh, Mott MacDonald

“We work in partnership all around the world and often with European partners – for instance French partners,” said AECOM managing director for Europe the Middle East Africa and India John Horgan.

“The uncertainty of our position in Europe following the election is a bad result. We need to put that certainty back," he added. "Our global clients see us as part of greater Europe and we are there or nowhere. We have no chance as a country unless we stay in Europe.”

For Mott MacDonald regional managing director for Europe, UK and Africa Mike Haigh things were not quite so clear cut.        

“As long as we stay in under renegotiated conditions that will bring stability and be good for business,” he said. “Having said that I do believe we have the skills in our organisation to be able to deal with whichever way it goes. It won’t be disastrous for us as a business if we left.”

Both men were part of a panel session at the conference looking at the changing political landscape. 

Fellow panelists were chair of Africa Matters Baroness Lynda Chalker and senior partner of EY Malcolm Bairstow. The view overall was that there is much to be debated.

Baroness Chalker’s was clear that it was better to be in a reformed Europe than out.

“I don’t think the issues are as insoluble as the media makes out,” she said. “But the renegotiation effort by Government has to be done with extreme care; reform is a craftsman’s job.”

Bairstow added: “I’d rather be in than out personally, with renegotiation around some aspects.” 

Discussion around the impact of being an international, or global business was another focus for the panel.

"Our global clients see us as part of greater Europe and we are there or nowhere”  - Horgan, AECOM

“We have 30% of our staff in the UK but the majority are not and we see ourselves as an international business with no them and us,” said Haigh.

“The challenge for us is to use our resources around the world in the most effective way and that is increasingly possible. We have better IT now, single BIM models mean people in Prague and Thailand can work on a project in the UK," he added.

“The opportunity is massive. If the UK economy grows as we hope it will we will be facing resource issues. We will be able to deliver but in a totally different way. As a global business nationality and location will have less and less importance.”

Bairstow and Horgan agreed that globalisation led to a single global business. “We employ 210,000 people worldwide,” Bairstow said “and we are moving to a single partnership model even though there is attendant risk.”

Horgan asked: “What is the definition of a UK company? It is no longer clear to me. It is no longer relevant to talk about purely British or French companies for instance. We are part of a global village.”

Operating globally for global clients meant pricing was becoming an issue, Haigh admitted, with clients starting to query why they pay different rates in different places. “We are making changes to our pricing structure across the globe and rates will start to equalise. We have to prepare for that," he said.

For details and video clips from the ACE international Conference last week click here.

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