TSP Engineering – A Triumphant Return

Since we last spoke with TSP Engineering the company has seen some dramatic changes & tumultuous times, but it seems to be the beginning of a bold new era for the business.

“We’ve had a very interesting couple of years,” says John Coughlan when we catch up with him for our first interview since we profiled TSP Engineering in 2020.

In 2020 the total solution provider was serving the nuclear, energy, defence and steel industries with a full range of services including project management, design, manufacture, refurbishment and in-house testing facilities. It has built itself a reputation as a firm achieving the rare feat of delivering nuclear projects on time and within budget.

However, the company was also facing serious problems. While TSP Engineering was performing well, its parent company, British Steel, went into insolvency in 2019.

“We were a wholly owned subsidiary which meant that the Crown Receiver could not access our assets and could not come on-site without our permission. But they owned our shares,” Coughlan tells us. “So, they decided to sell British Steel to a non-British entity. We advised them it was the wrong thing to do because of the security work we do, but they sold it anyway.”

A Change in Ownership

What followed for TSP Engineering was two difficult years under non-British ownership, which had an immediate effect on the firm’s incoming work. At the same time, the new ownership necessitated increased diligence around information security for ongoing work in the nuclear sector.

“Our biggest achievement was that we maintained our security levels and have them adhered to because of the classified documents we had on-site,” Coughlan says proudly “We held on to that information and increased our security levels.”

While new work from the nuclear and defence sectors dried up, the company still had a duty of care to the projects it has signed up for before the company changed ownership.

“Our people were well motivated to protect the orders we received,” Coughlan tells us. “We had received a £30 million contract for work with Sellafield. We kept the morale of the business up, never compromised on our level of delivery.”

Perhaps surprisingly, given the stressful environment they were working within, TSP Engineering still managed to maintain a lot of its staff, even during a time when staff turnover has been high industry wide.

“We kept the majority of our key staff,” Coughlan says. “We also had a lot of staff movement, but we’ve seen that throughout the economy as well.”

While this was a tough period for TSP, it soon came to an end when, once again, TSP Engineering came under British ownership.

A New Era

In March this year, TSP was acquired by GMET Group and immediately the company saw a change in fortunes. The Ministry of Defence immediately offered the firm work involved in the decommissioning of submarines.

“We’re working on more orders for the MOD and have other orders coming in from civil nuclear companies as well,” Coughlan tells us. “So, we have had a lot of big changes. With our new owners, GMET, who are very much engaged in the nuclear sector holding their own IP. So, we will start working towards the building of AMR’s by the end of this year. We have already started gearing up for that in Cumbria.”

Cumbria is famously home to the first commercial nuclear power plant in the UK, Sellafield. Now TSP is involved in planning, construction and development of the new Nuclear Technologies.

“We have taken it a step forward. Cumbria saw the first big nuclear reactors, and next, it will see the first advanced modular reactors,” Coughlan says. “We are going to start that by 2025.”

Coughlan details plans for the company to grow its workforce from 230 people to over 1,000 people on-site, fuelled by the new possibilities TSP’s new ownership opens up.

“They are a British group with a history in the development of nuclear technology. The fact that they are British based opens up the possibility of developing the reputation we already have in the sector,” Coughlan says. “Combined with the reputation we have built on securing information and assets during ownership by a non-British company, all of this will help grow the business. GMET are also bringing with them their own new nuclear technologies, which opens up opportunities for the business to grow and develop the 1,000 jobs we want to open up here on site. It will also fuel the growth and development of our export sector.”

Throughout the last two years, and looking to the future, Coughlan is keen to emphasise the importance of a strong team.

“It is our passion to grow and develop our people, particularly at a time when lots of resources are moving throughout the whole economy,” Coughlan says. “We still believe that people who want to join TSP Engineering are making an investment in their future. It is important people understand that by coming to this business they can grow their abilities and technical capacity, working on new nuclear technologies.”

Of course, with new business comes new challenges, and Coughlan is the first to acknowledge that there are obstacles to overcome.

“Some of our biggest challenges at the moment relate to energy costs and material costs, which are increasing, driven by the war in Ukraine,” Coughlan reflects. “There is a lot of speculation about whether those costs will come down if the war stops, how quickly prices will come down when it does and under how much control they will be. There is also the question of whether suppliers might look to keep prices high even when these pressures are removed to make a windfall profit.”

TSP Engineering has lost no time in adapting to the new economic environment.

“We have started to put agreements in place. Obviously, we have experienced cost increases, but we have minimised those as much as possible by buying forward and getting into an agreement early,” Coughlan says. “We are also looking at what infrastructure we could fit on-site to generate our own electricity and lessen the cost through wind power or solar power.”

It will be interesting to see where TSP Engineering is at in another two years.

“We plan to do a lot more work in the Defence sector now we have British ownership,” Coughlan says. “With our history we see ourselves having a big impact on energy and net-zero. We are working on AMRs, or Advanced Modular Nuclear Reactors, and we are working with several companies to support these projects in manufacturing.”

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