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Council backs Oakervee's enthusiasm for single engineering institution

ICE news

'The biggest issue for members is increasing the profile and status of engineers. We can do that far better as a pan-engineering organisation, ' ICE senior vice president Douglas Oakervee told Council last month.

This view was reflected by Council which agreed that a single institution offered the engineering profession a better opportunity to raise its profile and would give far greater influence with UK government and policy makers (see box).

'The government is absolutely fed up with the number of professional institutions it has to deal with. We have an obligation to pursue this, ' added vice president John Burland.

But the pressure is on the ICE to make a swift decision as it has entered the debate late.

The plan originally involved only the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Institution of Electrical Engineers and Institution of Incorporated Engineers. But since learning of the idea in June the ICE has moved fast to try and get involved.

The ICE has yet to be officially welcomed into the discussions, but Council's unanimous support is likely to send a strong message that the ICE is serious.

It also feels that it has much to offer a united institution.

'Pleasingly the other institutions all respected the JBM (the ICE's academic standardsetting body) as the biggest thing we can add, ' said Oakervee.

'We are also leaders overseas - none of the others have as well established offices overseas as us.'

The new institution is expected to be radically different, with membership decoupled from qualification.

Anyone working in the field of engineering - construction lawyers, environmentalists, geologists - could be a member, with a separate qualifying body controlling professional titles.

Oakervee explained that a new 'Institution of Engineers was likely to be split into four 'faculties', matching government departments:

industry/production; energy;

communications; and the environment.

This would be a major threat if the ICE was not part of it, explained Oakervee. 'The danger is that the other three institutions could cover all four sectors.

'This means that if the government wanted one body to talk to on a major issue such as energy, it could talk to the new institution - not us.'

Nearly all Council members spoke in support of the scheme, but many had reservations.

A common concern was that other institutions of the built environment should be brought into the plans. If they do not, it was feared, ICE members may join them instead.

'We have to be careful of what the reaction of ordinary members may be, ' said David Orr, territorial member for Northern Ireland.

'The vast majority of our membership is passive with a degree of loyalty and respect for the ICE. A new institution means ending the existing ICE and there is a big risk that passive members will end their association with the ICE and join other built environment institutions more focused on their particular interests.'

Orr's comments were echoed by Mike Stephens, South East region territorial member .

'Engineers are not the most radical people generally and I would be much happier if the likes of the IHT (highways) and IStructE (structurals) were involved.'

Oakervee said that every effort would be made to get other built environment institutions involved:

'Our key role is ensuring that the IMechE and IEE are sympathetic to the other built environment institutions. Only the ICE can achieve this.

Other Council members voiced fears that the plan was rushed, but Oakervee stressed the need for progress to be swift 'I would favour a Council meeting at the back end of October with the current Council, ' he said.

Roughly a third of Council members will be replaced in November, so a decision after this date would be taken by new Council members not familiar with the issues.

It was agreed to try to stick to the programme as proposed, but that it be revisited at September's Council meeting.

Council also stressed the importance of keeping the membership informed of progress.

'We must be sensitive to the membership and its concerns. Some may feel threatened by this and so we need to sell it, not spin it, ' said Peter Hansford.

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