Middle East growth momentum set to pick up speed

Nelson Ogunshakin reports from his trip to the UAE and Qatar where he is impressed by the pace of change.

For the last eight years I have been visiting the Middle East twice a year, and am just in the middle of my trip to the United Arab Emirates [UAE] and Qatar. In the last five years ACE has established its own Middle East Group with strong help and support from Mott Macdonald regional managing director Ian Clarke and WSP Group regional managing director Tom Bower, operating from their Abu Dhabi and Dubai offices respectively.

"UK based professional companies continue to provide the bulk of the consultancy and engineering services required to deliver these major mega projects across the region"

The principal objective of my visit is to engage with ACE members working in the region and their respective stakeholders.  Historically, UK companies have had a strong presence in the Gulf region.  This is more so in the last 40 years, as the UAE and its neighbouring states continue to develop  infrastructure to position the sub-region as the Middle East’s most important economic centre.

As the region emerges from the recent economic slowdown, UK based professional companies continue to provide the bulk of the consultancy and engineering services required to deliver these major mega projects across the region.  Headline grabbing schemes such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the Expo 2020 winning bid by Dubai will add dynamism to an economy that is already on an upward spiral spurred by three critical sectors: huge non-oil sector investments, the buoyant trade and services sectors, and the booming tourism industry.

The majority of my time is being spent engaging and facilitating discussions between ACE members and the key clients investing in the region and leading government officials providing the institutional, technical and management capacity to deliver what is required.  Historically these trips have provided an opportunity to bring all parties together to not only discuss their projects and understand and address the challenge, but also to foster improved relationships between them.  It is crucial to maintain a cordial and effective relationship to achieve the long-term goals of the region.

During this visit there are events, organised to cover issues from best business practices ranging from legal, terms and conditions, contracts  and compliance through to HR and health and safety challenges and they have so far proved to be very successful.  I am particularly proud of ACE’s past engagement with key clients where our intervention and negotiation went a long way in resolving the issue of unpaid fees for ACE members in the region.

So in summary, this is a snapshot of what I am finding on my travels:


This emirate in particular was hit by the 2008 global financial crisis when the property sector and construction went into decline.  But Dubai has been bold in its diversification policy and I believe is back with an increasing workload.  Dubai’s rebounding property market with many units now being bought off-plan, combined with a strong performance in trade and construction is lifting its GDP back to the pre-recession period. The focus on delivery of the social and economic infrastructure required for the Expo 2020 will be another major catalyst for renewal activities.

Abu Dhabi

Since 1962 when Abu Dhabi became the first emirate to begin exporting oil, the country’s society and economy has been transformed.  With more extensive oil reserves than any other emirate, Abu Dhabi has remained relatively controlled in its path to diversification.  What is evident is that there is a consistent, conservative and progressive approach to delivering their development plan. However, as the official capital of the UAE, there will continue to be steady investment in both economic and social infrastructure including major expansion of the Etihad Airport and delivery of the Etihad Rail.


This gulf state has bounded on to world stage with its ambitions to host two of the world’s leading sporting events, with the World Cup becoming a reality in 2022 but its Olympic bid for 2020 rejected by the IOC.  The country now has a spotlight on it and intense scrutiny on how it is going to mobilise natural and human resource to deliver on its promises.  With this heavy workload now in the pipeline, I think it is without exception that all of our ACE members from our large consultancy group along with a few more specialist providers are working on these mega-projects.  What I have to be mindful of to help ACE members is to open conversations to ensure that any difficulties in institutional capacity within the Qatari framework are sorted out to guarantee a robust internal delivery on what is expected.

I am enjoying seeing a different region to the one I visited last year.  And have been blown away by the renewed energy, increased workload activities and pace of the change, with no improvement in the conditions of engagement and payment regime. A continued source of challenges for ACE member firms operating within the region.

Nelson Ogunshakin is chief exeuctive of ACE