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Cash for delivery

ICE news - ICE members are being asked to vote to approve a 15% increase in subscriptions for 2006. But what will that extra cash buy them, asks Antony Oliver.

Revitalisation of the ICE is, for many, long awaited. Members made it clear in the recent satisfaction survey that they wanted more and better services from their Institution - they wanted a more professional and more influential organisation.

ICE director general Tom Foulkes has the task of turning these aspirations into reality.

And he has quickly discovered that delivering it will cost money - money that has to come via increased subscriptions.

'These subscription rises will deliver the things that members have told us they want, ' explains Foulkes. 'We have a very clear idea of what they want. But it is clear that to do what members want requires professional salaried staff - it simply cannot be done by volunteers any longer.' The heart of the ICE revitalisation plan is support for regional activities. Teams have already been put in place in four regions - West Midlands, North West, East of England and the South West - and in the devolved regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. A positive decision by members to support subscription rises will enable new support teams to be set up in the remaining five regions.

But as Foulkes points out, failure to agree this package will effectively put further regional support on hold indefinitely.

Regional support teams are crucial for us to deliver the extra value that members want from their membership, ' he explains. 'They give us the increased capacity to deliver, whether it is programmes to schools, support for employers or support for members.

'But the extra cash also lets us produce programmes that infl ence government and promote civil engineering, ' he adds. 'The reality is that if we do not raise subscriptions, communications staff in the regions will be at risk. It is clear that if you haven't got the people on the ground with the right skills it is very diffi cult to communicate and infl uence.' The State of the Nation report is just one example. It has been a clear success and really brought the Institution to the attention of decision makers. However, it comes at a cost, and the budget for this year's national report plus six regional companions is around $170,000.

The bald facts are that to provide a regional support team of five full and part time staff costs around $150,000 a year. Multiply that by 12 regions and you get a cost approaching $1.9M a year.

And that is before you actually do anything.

Foulkes stresses that the ICE has worked hard to slim down its own cost base with efficiencies forced across every department. In particular he highlights the six fi gure savings made by the fi ance department after switching over to a fully computerised membership register.

But even so, the cost of delivering a fully professional institution cannot be underestimated. Before the subs rise kicks in, the ICE will be forced to carry an operating deficit of $2.3M in 2005 - $1.9M more than expected. The deficit should drop to $943,000 in 2006 before returning to surplus in 2007.

The decision to delve into reserves - now expected to dip to $10M, just above the recommended minimum - shows just how committed the ICE is to delivering real value before asking members to pay for the improvements, Foulkes explains.

He is also emphatic that this budget adds up. In December, Council agreed a revised 2005/6 budget which took on board the impact of $1.3M lower income than predicted, plus some $660,000 of extra cost from the regional support team.

He says that cost estimates for the continued regional support programme are based 'on reality' rather than the somewhat optimistic guesses put forward for the pilot programmes.

He stresses that hiking subscriptions, no matter how uncomfortable, is vital to make ends meet.

'This is a cash limited business. If we cannot raise the cash through subscriptions then nothing will happen.' The main concern for those at the heart of the ICE secretariat is that members actually take time to understand that what they are trying to deliver is only what members have asked for. 'We are trying to change the ICE from a group of well meaning amateurs to a professional and highly competent organisation.

Professionalism doesn't come for free, ' Foulkes says.

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