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NCE Live News Updates Thursday 6 March: Balfours suffers massive drop in profits to £32M

The contractor followed a tough first half of 2013 with more disappointing results in the second half.

4pm: Nuclear experts at Sellafield have successfully removed 100t of contaminated redundant equipment from the oldest fuel storage pond at Europe’s oldest nuclear site.

The 60-year-old pond, known as the Pile Fuel Storage Pond (PFSP), has to be emptied carefully as part of a plan to clean up and decommission facility.

A further 650t of contaminated metal is still to be retrieved from the pond, but Sellafield said the removal of the first 100t was a key milestone.

The pond was initially constructed to store fuel from the Windscale Pile reactors, whose primary focus was producing plutonium for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. It stopped receiving fuel in the 1970s, but today the PFSP is understood to still be the largest open air nuclear storage pond in the world, at 100m long.

“Our nuclear forefathers developed a technology that helped the UK secure a seat at the global power table in the aftermath of the Second World War,” said PFSP head of programme delivery Dorothy Gradden. “The oldest plants at Sellafield were built in a time before computers existed and with little thought given to how they would be decommissioned. The challenge for this generation of nuclear pioneers is to safely decommission those earliest facilities as cost effectively as we can.”

 

3.50pm: Anna Walker has been reappointed as the chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation until December 2015, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced today.

The appointment aims to ensure continuity of leadership for the regulator as it oversees the beginning of the industry’s upcoming £38bn programme of rail investment.

Walker has been in charge of the regulator since 2009.

 

3.40pm: Somerset County Council has revealed how it intends to use a £10M grant for tackling floods on roads.

The funding for the roads could see a series of projects get underway including:

  • Clearing roads from silt and debris and make urgent safety repairs to ensure the roads are safe for traffic
  • Deep cleaning drainage systems and undertaking electrical repairs
  • Repairing bridges or other structures and rights of way
  • Rebuilding and resurfacing the roads using more flood resistant surfacing where required
  • Installing flood gates and diversionary signage to manage future flood events.

Another project could get underway by the end of the year to improve the A372 near Langport to accomodate a larger channel for the Sowy.

The funding will also help Somerset County Council undertake a number of transport studies to improve the resilience of the A361 and other road schemes including raising sections of an essential road link into the community Muchelney, it said.

 

3.30pm: Network Rail’s chief executive has apologised for the company’s past failings in managing safety at level crossings, and for its past behaviour towards bereaved families.

Speaking following publication of a Transport Select Committee report on level crossing safety, Mark Carne said: “Today, I wish to extend a full and unreserved apology on behalf of Network Rail to all those whose lives have been touched by a failing, however large or small, made by this company in managing public safety at level crossings and in failing to deal sensitively with the families affected.

“Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by the families of those killed or injured at a level crossing. Today Network Rail is a very different company to the one which existed at the time of these tragic accidents. As we made clear when we pleaded guilty during the Elsenham court proceedings, it was a watershed in the way we thought about our approach to the risk at level crossings, and how we treat victims and their families. As a result of this transformation, level crossings in Great Britain are amongst the safest in Europe, but there is still much that we can, and will, do and the committee’s recommendations will help us in that endeavour.”

9.30am: Balfour Beatty today revealed more bad news with another fall in profits in its full year results, which it said were ‘disappointing’.

Pretax profits fell a massive 78% to just £32M for the year ending 31 December against £147M the previous year. The firm blamed the UK construction market and operational issues combined with a downturn in Australia.

“Challenging economic conditions and operational issues in UK construction, and a significant downturn in the Australian natural resources sector led to a disappointing financial performance,” the company said in a statement.

The contractor was struggling when it published its half year results and was also forced to issue a profit warning last April.

“In 2013 we faced challenging economic conditions in several markets and experienced operational issues in the UK construction business,” said chief executive Andrew McNaughton. “The remedial actions taken in underperforming areas are delivering results and have positioned us better for the future. Continuing to improve operational delivery and supply chain management will remain a particular area of focus throughout 2014.

“We are seeing increasing evidence of improving conditions in some parts of our core United States and UK markets, although the long cycle nature of our business means that these will take time to feed through fully in our financial performance. Recovery in some parts of our businesses will be largely offset by a reversion to lower PPP investment disposal gains. However, leaving aside the expected benefit from the longstanding contract settlement and the impact of any further adverse foreign exchange movements, we expect to make modest progress in 2014.

“In the longer term, we remain focused on capitalising on growth in global infrastructure markets by leveraging three key strengths: local presence, asset knowledge and our skills as an investor and developer.”

Revenue was up 2% to £10.12bn against £9.96bn. In construction services, a 12% revenue improvement in the US and 16% growth in the rest of the world was partly offset by a 12% reduction in the UK. Infrastructure Investments performed well with a rise in profit from £69M to £102M.

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