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Abold plan, but the devil was in the detail

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Few would doubt that the timetable set by the Institutions of Electrical, Mechanical and Incorporated Engineers to bring about a complex merger was always optimistic.

The plan was to move from an announcement last summer to a vote by members in the first quarter of this year, paving the way for creation of an Institute of Engineers by the beginning of 2005.

History would suggest that this was always going to be a tough brief. As all three parties accepted this week, the devil is in the detail.

The ICE, of course, threw its hat into the merger ring last September only to be abruptly dismissed to the sidelines. To bring in a fourth party would, it was told, have slowed the process down.

'With hindsight it is hard to say whether the ICE's involvement would have helped, ' says Institution of Incorporated Engineers chief executive Peter Wason. 'When dealing with a coming together of sovereign bodies it is difficult with just two - four would have been much harder.'

Institution of Electrical Engineers director general Alf Roberts agrees: 'It is not the principle of things, it's simply the practicality.'

But clearly there is some lingering regret that the ICE was not brought fully to the table back in September. Could the ICE have acted as a catalyst to aid negotiation?

Could the ICE have helped bring some reality to the timetable?

While no one will be rushing into any new alliances, it is hard to imagine that the IMechE will not be looking to strengthen its relationship with the ICE.

'The general area of the built environment is one where the IMechE and the ICE are natural bedfellows, ' says IMechE president Chris Taylor.

Publicly all three institutions claim there is still scope for merger in the future. But back in the real world they are also talking about the need to rekindle the home fires.

'At IMechE we need a complete reappraisal of our strategic plan to decide what we are trying to deliver to our members, ' says Taylor. 'The younger members are all asking what they get for their subscription money in a way that my generation perhaps did not.'

It is a similar tale at the IIE.

'Over the last few months our individual strategic options have been put on the back burner, ' says Wason.

But all agree that the failure of talks does them few favours in the government's eyes.

Having all but promised science minister David Sainsbury that this merger was in the bag they now have to explain why a single voice is still impossible.

Roberts remains upbeat about this issue, claiming that all they ever really agreed to do was hold exploratory discussions over more collaborative working.

'I guess that he (Sainsbury) will be disappointed as this is not the answer he wanted, ' says Roberts. 'But as there are only five or six institutions covering 98% of all professionals, providing a single voice is still not an unrealistic goal.'

Few can doubt this logic. Yet as we have seen before, the reality of merger is a different thing entirely.

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