JAMES Miller is to step down from the helm of the family-owned Miller Group after 29 years as chairman.

Miller, 64, took over in 1970 from his father Sir James Miller, who co-founded the group in 1934.

He will be succeeded by former Royal Bank of Scotland finance director Bob Speirs, the first

outsider to chair the group, prompting renewed speculation that the UK's biggest privately-owned construction group may sooner or later consider a


Miller Group is committed to expanding through acquisition in housebuilding and property, and hopes to have seen off the rival management bid for housebuilder CALA with this week's final #100m-plus bid.

Chief executive Keith Miller said: ''I am very much looking forward to working with Bob to drive the company's expansion plans forward. His in-depth banking and property experience will be especially relevant to our growth plans as we seek further

acquisitions in the property and housing sectors.''

James Miller said Speirs' wide-ranging experience at the highest level would provide ''valuable leadership at a time of unprecedented growth opportunities for the group.''

Speirs said: ''The Miller Group is a forward-thinking and progressive company which has demonstrated its desire for growth and innovation.''

Speirs was finance director with Britoil in Glasgow in the 1980s and was a vocal critic of its takeover by BP, then moved to property giant Olympia & York until its demise.

He returned to Scotland as finance director at the Royal Bank of Scotland in the early 1990s and stepped down in October, 1998. He is a non-executive director of Canary Wharf Group, Stagecoach and most recently Macfarlane Group, and is chairman of Direct Line Insurance.

James Miller has been with the family firm since 1958 and has presided over its growth into a conglomerate.

The company make #15m of profit on #350m of sales in property, housing, civil engineering, contracting and mining. Mr Miller's father Sir James, the former Lord Provost of Edinburgh and Lord Mayor of London, founded the firm with his brother John, father of the present chief executive.

Keith Miller's appointment in 1994 came barely a year after James Miller appointed David Cawthra, a former Balfour Beatty chief executive, to head the group as its first outsider at the top.

Cawthra departed after an unhappy period of over-expansion at the wrong time, but also amid what both parties later said were strained relations with the family members who still exercise a tight control over the group.

Miller has been frequently tipped for flotation in recent years, but has so far said it sees no need, and is said to have a #250m war chest available for acquisitions.