Why don’t UK contractors work abroad any more?

The British engineers who led the building of the industrial age played a prominent role in Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony. But his inclusion of those globe-trotting Victorians belies the fact that, with a few notable exceptions, UK contractors have almost completely disappeared from the world stage in the last 20 years, retreating home to the safety of familiar contracts and supply chains and lavish, low-risk PFI building programmes. They have remained resolutely domestic even after four years of recession, the dwindling of those PFI programmes and despite booming markets around the world – where, according to UK Trade & Investment, clients are crying out for British expertise. So what are they scared of? And why don’t any of the risks of overseas contracting seem to faze their European rivals? For Construction Manager’s October cover feature, I spoke to contractors of varying levels of adventurousness, and one very baffled German who can’t understand why they’d squander the advantages of language, legal systems and brand recognition bequeathed by those Victorian ancestors.