Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Engineering bodies in row over ICE room rate hike

The ICE’s role as a “centre for the exchange of specialist knowledge” has been called into question after senior officials slashed financial support to associated societies.

Highly respected groups such as the British Dam Society (BDS) and Offshore Engineering Society (OES) are reeling at the ICE’s move to cut subsidies for meeting room hire at its Great George Street headquarters.

Associated societies currently pay 25% of the market price for these facilities. As of January this will rise to 50% as the ICE attempts to plug a hole in its budget caused by falling profits within its commercial arm Thomas Telford.

The ICE has been warned that the increase will jeopardise the technical meetings of associated societies and may force them to shift their alliances to other institutions.

“The ICE could have a much diminished role in the dissemination of knowledge”.

A member of one of the affected societies

“Most of the societies will have to find venues outside Great George Street, and some may well decide to find new permanent homes,” warned a member of one of the affected societies. “The ICE could have a much diminished role in the dissemination of knowledge”.

Another warned of the financial implications of the hike. “This will have a catastrophic effect on our budget at a time when we are trying to avoid increasing our prices to our recession-hit members,” said Society of Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics (SECED) chairman Ian Smith.

In a letter to ICE director general Tom Foulkes, Smith said SECED brings value to the ICE “many times” any financial support given and that the relationship “enhances the ICE’s reputation and position as a learned body”. The letter warns that the society will seek to host its meetings elsewhere unless the increase was reversed .

“SECED considers that it should have a close association with the ICE since its subject matter crosses the whole civil engineering spectrum,” says Smith’s letter. “Nevertheless, SECED has lots of other natural homes and is not beholden to the ICE.”

Difficult decision

ICE engineering, policy and innovation director Andrew Gooding defended the move. “This was a difficult decision. The ICE highly values the contribution of associated societies and wishes to continue to support them,” he said.

“However, during these challenging times the ICE is no different any other organisation facing a reduction in income and decisions to reduce or stop some activities have had to be made.”

But the associated societies are annoyed that the hike was only proposed in May, after plans were approved by Council, as many had already produced their 2010 meetings calendars.

“During these challenging times the ICE is no different any other organisation facing a reduction in income.”

Andrew Gooding, ICE

“The fact that the ICE seems to have mismanaged its affairs is by itself shocking,” said BDS chairman Peter Mason. “The fact that it is still paying for high profile but non-essential events such as president’s dinners and receptions while having to raid the funds of other registered charities to do so is both unprofessional and deplorable.”

Fourteen societies and associations are affected by the increase. They include the British Geotechnical Association, the British Nuclear Energy Society, the British Tunnelling Society, the Railway Civil Engineers’ Association and the Transport Planning Society.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Michael Paul

    I'm sure that the meetings of such Societies and Associations are a major reason that many civil engineers visit Great George St. at all. Therefore, if the increasing costs force them to move elsewhere, in my opinion it raises the question as to what relevance the Great George St. building has for a large part of the civil engineering community. Obviously nice to have - but could cheaper premises elsewhere serve the same purpose these days?

    Mike Paul, Stuttgart

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I recently attended a presentation about the history of the ICE which stated the importance that the 1 Great George st. building played. It was also explained that at one time the surrounding streets were the premises of civil engineering companies but that with increasing land costs/rent these businesses had relocated.

    I agree, shouldn't an institution headquarters be located so that its users can access it and return value for money. I mean what use is a grand building if no one can afford to use it.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • According to the key facts on ICE's website, Thomas Telford made a record-breaking profit of £3.3 million in 2008 yet the ICE has advised that the increased room charges are necessary because of its current financial situation! This is difficult to understand when they have recently "secured" (purchased or leased at considerable expense??) additional office space near Gt George St and are proceeding with an expensive web site redevelopment. Why do they now see the need to squeeze the very societies that are the life blood of the institution giving so much voluntary time and expertise to technical seminars and the various expert panels? Doubling the room hire and administrative charges at a time of financial difficulty will lead to the demise of many of the associated societies in a very short time. I question whether the institution can fulfil the objective of its Royal Charter viz "The object for which the Institution is constituted is to foster and promote the art and science of Civil Engineering" if its actions put these societies out of business. I know I am not alone in seriously considering whether I wish to continue to be a member of this increasingly commercialised organisation or to take my allegiance elsewhere.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I find it hard to believe that there are not "off peak" times when the rooms are rarely used (e.g ones on lower ground which often are empty) when these affiliated societies could not hire them at the prevailing discounts.

    Affiliated societies should not be targeted to make up for the shortcomings of those accountable for selling the space to external corporate clients.

    If the grand HQ is merely to become a premium outsourced room hire facility then it really may be time to consider selling it when the property market upturns.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I thought the main purpose of the ICE was to facilitate the sharing of Engineering expertise? The only function that will be left if this is lost is a "qualifying body".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Sirs,
    These outrageous increases in room rates and secretarial support costs will lead to many of the societies holding most or all of their London meetings in 2010 at venues other than the prestigious Great George Street building in order to survive. In that case, surely the result is a multiple loss to the ICE - loss of income from room hire, loss of goodwill from the societies' members, loss (or reduction) in the ICE's role in disseminating knowledge and, potentially, loss of membership sub's from those of us who have chartered engineer status from another institution, and are becoming increasinly incensed by the move away from the Civils' core purpose and into a seemingly greedy craving for commercial profits from OGGS. If ICE really needs to save money, why not cut back on expensive new buildings, expensive new websites, a top-heavy (presumably highly paid) executive and worldwide presidential tours, etc...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.