OVER THE past few months, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering & Technology - formerly Electrical Engineers - have revamped their governance to better manage their businesses.
Both had very large Council trustee bodies of 80-plus and 140plus members respectively. And both have now opted for small trustee bodies, backed by larger advisory councils.
Last December, the ICE set up a Governance Working Group (GWG) under the chairmanship of vice president David Orr to explore whether of not it should follow suit.
Over a six-month period, the group chewed over the pros and cons of the current set up and in early June was given a mandate by Council to take forward reforms (see box).
'We are not going through the motions on this, ' says Orr. 'We have seen what has been happening with the governance of other institutions and decided to take a long hard look at how we are run.' Unlike the other two major institutions, the ICE has decided against replacing Council with a smaller trustee body. 'ICE Council has never had a problem making decisions or doing its business, ' explains Orr, adding that it would not make sense to move away from the current large trustee body supported by a smaller executive.
However, he insists that governance reform is certainly on the agenda, asserting that a Council of 43 to 44 members would make better use of everyone's time.
'We also have to introduce measures to ensure Council members are fully aware of their responsibilities, ' says Orr. 'If people on Council don't say very much or get involved then really what is the point in having them.' he Charity Commission has been consulted extensively along the way. Orr explains that the Commission is concerned to make sure that trustees are fully aware of their responsibilities and so has expressed preference for smaller trustee bodies.
But it also recognises that for a large organisation, such as the ICE, there are huge benets from a larger pool of knowledge and experience. The debate will now focus on the precise make up of this new Council - how many members are directly elected and how many are elected by representative groupings.
The biggest debate during and prior to the Council meeting was over territorial representation.
This was driven largely by the disparity between membership numbers across the 10 regions since the ICE reorganised its territories in line with the Regional Development Agencies. The result is that while the south east has 11,045 members, Northern Ireland, for example, has just 1,816.
Some members of the GWG felt that there could be merit in giving the regions Council seats in proportion to their membership numbers.
However, last month Council backed the plan for each region to have a single representative.
It was felt it was highly likely that the more populated regions would deliver a greater number of directly elected members. It also noted that although putting forward the views of a region each representative had to vote as a trustee in the best interests of the ICE as a whole.
Council also agreed with the GWG's view that the ICE's increased global reach required an increased global Council representation.
Some 20% of the total membership is now outside the UK, but at present Council's international representation is limited to a single Hong Kong council member.
In future many more international representatives will be introduced, with technology utilised where necessary to ease the communication process.
'Certainly there will be cost implications, ' accepts Orr. 'But cost will certainly not be the show stopper for this.' View David Orr's Q&A on ICE governance at www. nceplus.co. uk
Council voted through four key recommendations:
To maintain the status quo situation of a large Council/trustee body and a small executive board.
That further consideration be given to making Council slightly smaller.
That the number of international Council members should be increased and that the facilities for attending Council by tele/ video conference be considered.
l That each UK region be represented by one territorial representative.
These recommendations have now been handed back to the Governance Working Group and detailed recommendations will be presented to Council at its 1 November meeting.