MERGER BETWEEN the Institutions of Civil Engineers (ICE) and Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) was thrust firmly onto the table this week at the first ever joint meeting of the Councils of both bodies.
Differences in membership fees, membership structure and in regional activity, plus concern over the name of any new organisation, emerged as potential, but not show-stopping, hurdles after some 130 trustees gathered to discuss closer collaboration.
'Tradition is only part of what we represent - we cannot let it dominate, ' said ICE president Gordon Masterton, emphasising the unique opportunity for change that the meeting presented. 'We must individually consider how best the institution and profession should be structured.' But he pointed out that no decision regarding convergence or merger had been taken. 'The detail of the next steps will follow today's discussion. This is an opportunity to think openmindedly.' IMechE president Alec Osborn also welcomed the discussion, but pointed out that any merger would have to add value. 'We have got to make one plus one equal 10 - not just go from A to B, but from A to C, ' he said.
The joint meeting of Councils followed about 18 months of work to identify the pros and cons of bringing the two institutions closer together (see feature p26).
The meeting was intended to review the progress of work to date and explore the issues and barriers to closer working between the ICE and IMechE.
Masterton and Osborn highlighted the huge potential benefi ts to both institutions and their members of either convergence or merger.
Greater infl ence, a wider range of member services, economies of scale and a more holistic view of issues were, Masterton said, very attractive benefits.
He added that the work so far had shown that there were already huge similarities between the organisations' activities and cultures.
'We have not found any real surprises, ' said Masterton.
'There are differences in emphasis rather than culture.' Support for closer convergence was also given by science minister Lord Sainsbury in a letter to the meeting. 'Merging would build upon the excellent work that you are doing already.
A single institution would wield a greater voice.'
However, the meeting heard that there were obstacles to be overcome, in particular surrounding fi nances and membership structure.
'The major difference is the subscription level, ' said ICE vice-president finance Peter Hansford, referring to the £50 difference in fees. 'This could be addressed through IMechE increasing or ICE reducing its sub. It is a signifi cant issue - and not without its diffi culties - but it is achievable.' And regarding the clear differences in the institutions' membership structure, deputy IMechE president Bill Banks said: 'It would require a significant amount of work, but there are not insurmountable problems.' The meeting also heard concerns about what a future merged organisation might be called.
Osborn explained that he understood the concern, but added: 'It is dangerous at this stage to speculate. However, the Institution of Civil & Mechanical Engineers doesn't sound so bad to me.' No decisions as to the way forward will be taken until December's Council meeting.
'A final decision will be a vote of all (corporate) members, ' said Masterton. 'We will need to give all members enough quality information to enable them to make a reasoned decision.'
Should the ICE and IMechE merge? Vote online at www.nceplus. co. uk