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 open-mindedly.'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 ten - not just go from A to B but from A to C,' he said.The joint meeting of Council's followed around eighteen months of work to identify the pros and cons of bringing the two institutions closer together.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 that there were huge potential benefits to both institutions and their members of either convergence or merger.Greater influence, a wider range of member services, economies of scale and a more holistic view of issues were, Masterton said, were 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 finances and membership structure.'The major difference is the subscription level,' said ICE vice president finance Peter Hansford referring to the current £50 difference in fees.'This could be addressed through IMechE increasing or ICE reducing its sub. It is a significant issue - and not without its difficulties - but it is achievable.'And regarding the clear differences in the two institution's membership structure, deputy IMechE president Bill Banks highlighted: '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 and Mechanical Engineers doesn't sound so bad to me.'ICE Council will continue the discussion at its November meeting but 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 then to make a reasoned decision.'Have your say. Do you think the ICE and IMechE should merge? Vote online at www.nceplus.co.uk.