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Council backs ICE investment plans

ICE COUNCIL has unanimously approved a new 2005 budget and fi ve-year business plan that promises investment to 'bring the Institution into today's world'.

The decision allows the ICE to press on with its revitalisation plans but will require tough, often controversial, measures over the next few years to balance the books - not least a vote by members in the spring to agree a subscription rise of over 30% by 2008.

'This plan is crucial for change: it is crucial to modernise the ICE to bring it into today's world and it is crucial to delivering what members want, ' said ICE president Colin Clinton.

'It is also crucial to retaining the quality employees now within the ICE - in Great George Street and around the regions - and it is crucial to attracting quality employees in the future, ' he added.

The business plan will allow investment in key areas such as delivering regional support teams and boosting membership services. It means the ICE will carry an operating deficit of ú1.2M ($2.25M) in 2005 - ú1M more than expected - plus a ú500K defi it in 2006 before returning to surplus in 2007.

Chairman of the finance committee Peter Hansford explained that this increased deficit was caused by a ú700,000 shortfall in the ICE's income in 2005 combined with a ú350,000 increase in the cost of delivering new regional support teams.

'Our estimate of the cost of rolling out support teams in the fi rst four pilot regions was only that - an estimate, ' said Hansford. 'There was a great deal of uncertainty and with hindsight we perhaps should have put more contingency against these.' Hansford assured Council members that the work carried out over the last few years to bolster reserves - now at ú6.5M - put the ICE in a strong position.

He pointed out that a recent risk assessment had recommended a new minimum reserve level of ú5.25M and pointed out that the current business plan kept within this recommendation.

He emphasised that cost control measures would also be implemented to protect reserves, and that projects had been prioritised in detail. He also said that income projections, in particular from the ICE's commercial arm Thomas Telford, were expected to continue their upward trend.

However, in agreeing the proposed plan, Council accepted that an increase in the cost of subscriptions would be one of a range of measures needed to balance the books.

The agreed budget assumes a subscription rise of typically ú27 ($50, or 15%) in 2006, followed by ú19 (9%) in 2007 and ú10 (4.5%) in 2008 - adding ú56 to the members' subscription.

But detailed discussion on subscription rates will follow at the next Council meeting in March. Under the Institution's rules, any increase over 10% must be approved by a vote of the full membership. This ballot will take place in March with the results returned in time for the May Council meeting.

Director general Tom Foulkes stressed that no decision over subscription increases would be taken without full membership approval. 'Today's meeting is about the budget for 2005, not determining subscriptions, ' he reminded Council.

Hansford pointed out that the fi ve year business plan clearly relied on subscription increases and he reminded Council that it would be diffi cult to deliver the accelerated revitalisation plan, already agreed in December 2003, without this increase.

Clinton also stressed how important this new budget was to allow the revitalisation of the Institution to continue.

But he also emphasised that proposals were driven by members. 'This is the future of our institution - we owe it to the members to make these tough decisions, ' he said.

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