CANADIAN engineering giant SNC Lavalin is to quadruple the number of its UK employees to 4,000 in the next 12 months as part of a major expansion across Britain.
Neil Bruce, who left energy services firm Amec to lead SNC’s UK expansion, expects the group to target an array of engineering projects, including plutonium disposal at Sellafield, rail transport projects in the West of Scotland and oil and gas projects in Aberdeen.
Bruce, a Scot who sits on the UK government industry boards, surprised the market when he left Amec after 15 years in October and joined SNC in January as its president of resources and environment based in London.
The newly-formed division comprises the company’s hydrocarbons and chemicals, mining and metallurgy, environment and water divisions and is the largest business unit in the group.
Bruce – who is an honorary professor at the Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University and was formerly chief operating officer at Amec – was among the first senior figures hired by SNC chief executive Robert Card.
The Quebec-based group’s shift to London – and a sudden increase in the number of non-French-speaking directors – marks a major change for the firm, moving it on to the international stage, largely backed by the company’s Canadian pension fund investors.
The company made its initial move into the UK market with the 2011 acquisition of Derby-based rail engineering firm Interfleet. This was before its previous chief executive, Pierre Duhaime, and other senior executives left the company over alleged bribes to the state body commissioning the building of a major hospital project in Montreal. Duhaime has since been arrested and charged with fraud.
The corruption scandal, which has also seen the group barred for applying for projects commissioned by the World Bank for ten years, has proved pivotal for the company.
Bruce said: “About a dozen folk have gone. The company’s got 34,000 people. They are part of a big 100-year-old company that is fed up with what a dozen guys did.
“We want to grow our business in the UK fairly rapidly. We have about 1,000 people here at the moment and I’d be really disappointed if we didn’t have 4,000 this time next year.”
The company employs 600 people at Interfleet and also owns Candu Energy, the former Canadian government-owned nuclear reactor and services company, which it aims to deploy in the UK.
Last year, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority commissioned Candu to develop a proposal for managing the UK’s plutonium stockpile. The company has suggested burning the nuclear waste for energy.
Bruce also sits on the board advising Scottish Secretary Michael Moore. Last week, it met to discuss how to link Scotland to the ambitious £43 billion high-speed rail project expected to run from London to Leeds and Manchester.
Bruce said: “One of the things on the agenda is about how we in Scotland can make sure we are linked up to that. People laughed a bit because they think it is never going to happen anyway, so ask why are we fixated on links to Scotland.
“The transport links need to be improved. But I’m not sure focusing everything towards HS2 is going to do anything, because it might not happen.”