Atkins, the UK’s largest engineering and design consultancy, has reported pre-tax profit of £96.6m − an annual fall of almost six per cent.

Operating profits for the year ending 31 March 2010 were up 9.6 per cent as the firm cut staff numbers by 13.4 per cent.

But the company said increased pension costs and lower returns on its financial assets led to the 5.9 per cent drop in pre-tax profit.

The firm’s recommended dividend for the year is 27.5p − an increase of 5.8 per cent on 2009.

‘These are good results in a tough economic environment,’ chief executive officer Keith Clarke told reporters during a conference call. ‘We believe they demonstrate the resilience of growing good engineering skills.’

Clarke said the company, which operates in a variety of sectors including aerospace, construction, energy and transport, had improved performance across the board rather than relying on specific contracts.

‘We are still investing and will continue to invest in low-carbon tools, staff training, staff development, and developing niche technical skills that we put into our portfolio,’ he said.

He added that expected cuts in public-sector spending gave engineers an opportunity to help rebase the economy and that decarbonising the country would be intrinsic to this.

‘You can get so much efficiency by cutting overheads and doing housekeeping, but actually the real efficiency for capital programmes comes from better engineering,’ he said.

‘It’s time for the engineering community to say “this is a great challenge”. Don’t sit there whingeing – invest and give an answer.’