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Hands off the hand outs


On and around Branscombe Beach in Devon hundreds of people have spent the week convincing themselves that the 'salvaged' motorbikes, car parts, nappies and assorted furniture collected from the surf is not theft.

And provided they fill in the appropriate forms in the next month and surrender any goods recovered if asked to do so then it will not be considered so.

The fact that so many generally law-abiding people have flocked to the scene with the single-minded intent of grabbing as much booty as possible is as interesting as it is disturbing.

They may be looking out for interests of the owners of the lost goods but generally I fear not. On the whole ebay will be the most likely destination for most of them.

The events in Devon highlight an interesting dilemma - and a dilemma similar to that faced increasingly by many engineers each day. Just how far should we 'close our eyes' to 'accepted practice' even if it is at best immoral, at worst fundamentally breaking the law.

For engineers right now the parallel to swiping gear off Branscombe Beach seems to be the increasing trend towards excessive gifts and hospitality.

And if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, the current workload boom could be the civil engineering equivalent of a Napoli beaching in our community - and there is plenty of booty on offer.

On the very simplest level there are golf day prizes, lunches and Christmas bottles of wine.

They are perhaps the salvaged nappies equivalent in our world and as such should probably be considered as fair enough.

At the other end of the scale there are by all account some altogether more dodgy things on offer - the holidays, the cash payments, the 'discounts', the cash to buy lap dances - equivalent in scale perhaps to the 'salvaged' BMW motorbikes we saw wheeled off the beach this week.

Is it bribery? Is it corrupt? Is it fundamentally wrong to accept such rewards or inducements?

Well, while wrong is always wrong, such hand outs are certainly the latter end of the scale that we need to be cracking down on, whether in Devon and in our own backyard.

Those on Branscombe Beach will soon become aware that there are very well dened laws surrounding what you can and cannot do in the case of wrecks.

Clearly, construction needs a similar clarity when it comes to gifts and inducements. Those companies that have grasped the nettle and cracked down on them must be applauded as taking a st but difcult step toward transparency.

But fundamentally, the fact that we are having to take such steps is all a rather sad reection on the industry, which, according to some, has actually now been targeted by the corrupt because of our laissez-faire attitude.

Is it a fair reection? Who can really say? But we can't afford to risk it. - Robust policy is needed throughout the industry coupled with proper training and policing to ensure we don't end up with the kind of mess we now see on the beaches of Devon.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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