The CEO of a major civil engineering company says he believes the UK will avoid falling into recession if and when the impact of Brexit finally bites.
Patrick O’Keefe, head of the O’Keefe Group, says the demand for housebuilding will ensure that even if there is a slowdown in the economy, it will not topple over the edge.
Speaking from the firm’s emerging new headquarters at Cricketts Farm in Ightham, Mr O’Keefe also vowed his firm would be investing heavily in Kent going forward.
“Brexit or no Brexit there is still a huge shortage of housing,” he explains.
“Houses need to be built and other infrastructure needs to be built around it – schools, roads, hospitals and shops.
“The decision has been made and we have to be adaptable and monitor what industry is doing when Brexit comes about and adapt quickly when those challenges appear.
“Things may slow down, but there is a need for such a huge amount of houses I don’t think we’ll see a recession.”
Currently housebuilding accounts for around 40% of the company’s business - but it anticipates that rising to more than 50% over the coming years as the government continues to push ahead with its aggressive building plans to combat an ever-increasing population.
He adds: “We’re totally committed to Kent, we see growth in Kent and we’re putting more cash and investment, training and facilities into the Kent market as we see it as one of best regions in the UK.
“Look at the size of the county, spend of the local authority, how much housing is going to be put into Kent around Canterbury, Rochester and Medway. Kings Hill is still vibrant and Ebbsfleet is growing.
“There is huge investment coming here and it’s important the right companies are there to deliver and in the right way – with local companies who will recirculate that money back into the local economy – something we’re committed to doing.”
The company, formed in 1970 in Greenwich, is currently making one of the biggest internal changes in its 48-year history by moving all its operations to the 10-acre Cricketts Farm site.
Having already moved its Kent operation there three years, having previously had offices in Sunbridge and then Sevenoaks, in July it moves its plant and logistics department to the state-of-the-art facility.
And in September work begins on a 15,000 sq ft head office which should welcome staff next June.
The company has an impressive CV having worked on projects such as the London 2012 Olympic Games, the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium and Battersea Power Station.
In Kent, it was involved in the creation of the Westwood Cross shopping complex in Thanet and is currently working on the regeneration of Tunbridge Wells town centre.
But it is also acutely aware of the inherent risks of the sector - as demonstrated by the recent collapse of Carillion.
Explains Mr O’Keefe: “You need an ambitious business plan but with good risk management and a pessimistic view on the construction industry.
“Too many CEOs or owners are focused on growth – we’re focused on balance sheet management. It gives you a core set of decisions to make on should we take this job on and what will it do to our business.
“If you want to grow at all cost or make a quick buck, you’re not going to be around for long. Luckily we’re 48 years in the making and are looking forward to the next 48.”