Balfour’s European PPP drive hits the buffers in Germany

Balfour Beatty has failed to win a single PPP project in Germany since it opened an office there 18 months ago, raising fears among domestic firms that Europe may not be as eager as they had hoped to take advantage of their expertise.

Balfour is one of a host of UK companies that are aiming to exploit their experience of PPP projects to break into less developed European markets. The move has been lent impetus by uncertainty in the UK’s PFI market.

However, Balfour’s dedicated PPP operation, which is based in Munich, is understood to be bidding for only one scheme at the moment – a hospital in Bremen worth about £100m, which Balfour is aiming to invest in.

A Balfour spokesperson played down the severity of the situation. He said: “We have not won anything yet but it takes years to get to the preferred bidder stage.” A German industry source said: “They are desperate to win PPP work in Germany so this isn’t good.”

Balfour’s Munich office, run by Heike Albrecht, employs three staff. Albrecht, a German national, is understood to have a background in banking.

Wolfgang Schlicht, project finance leader for consultant EC Harris in Germany, said UK firms seeking to break into Germany needed to buy local companies. He said: “To win work you must know the German market well. Foreign companies that have done well, like Vinci, got in early and bought a local player.”

Balfour’s rail operation in Munich followed this route, with the acquisition of local firm Adtranz in 2000. The division now has a turnover of £300m. It specialises in high-speed electrification and power supply projects, and is working on the Gotthard Tunnel under the Alps in Switzerland.

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