INTERNATIONAL engineering firm Arup has started a consultation with thousands of UK staff, including those based in the North-East, ahead of 600 potential redundancies.

The company, founded by Newcastle-born Sir Ove Arup, blamed falling workloads and the public spending squeeze for its decision.

The firm employs about 150 staff at its Newcastle offices and is involved in high-profile projects in the region, including, as part of a consortium, a revamp of Redcar seafront.

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The company said that all of its 3,888 UK employees were involved in the 90-day consultation.

The firm is owned in trust on behalf of its staff and employees receive a share of the its operating profit each year.

It added that its employees were its greatest asset and it was doing everything possible to ensure the consultation was handled with “transparency and sensitivity”.

In a statement yesterday, the company said: “It is with regret that the very difficult decision has been taken to implement a programme of redundancies, with a 90-day consultation beginning on September 6.

“While we will endeavour to redeploy staff within the firm where possible, we anticipate that these staff reductions may affect up to 600 employees.”

It added: “We continue to operate in a period of uncertainty in the economy.

“Arup – like any responsible business – needs to ensure its long-term business health, which means that it is essential that we match our resources to our current and anticipated workload.

“Like many other businesses, we have been affected by the weak market, as well as expected and current cuts in Government expenditure.”

Founded in 1946, Arup first came to prominence with the structural design of the Sydney Opera House, followed by its work on the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.

Many of the world’s most iconic sports stadia are Arup projects, such as Beijing’s Water Cube and Birds Nest, built for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Sir Ove retained a strong connection with the region, personally supervising the design and construction of Durham City’s Kingsgate Bridge in 1963, from which his ashes were scattered following his death in 1988.