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Integration and the Mighty Quinn

Working lives - Profile

Local government and politics provide a first-class platform for increasing public recognition of the importance of the engineering profession to people's lives, says civil engineer and MP Lawrie Quinn.

Lawrie Quinn MP follows in the footsteps of Boris Yeltsin and Yasser Arafat in that he is both a civil engineer and a politician. 'When I stood for election it was noted by a lot of people that I was a civil engineer.

It was seen as a positive, trustworthy part of my CV, ' he says.

In 1979 Quinn began his working life as a civil engineer at British Rail. In 1997 he swapped the railways for what some might consider the rather more splendid surroundings of the Palace of Westminster. As MP for Scarborough & North Yorkshire Quinn spends Monday to Thursday at Westminster where he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Cabinet Office. Weekends find him at home in Yorkshire, dealing with constituency issues.

Nevertheless Quinn remains passionate about his original profession. 'I am a civil engineer who happens to be an MP, ' he says.

His track record in the House bears out his claim. Within weeks of Quinn's migration to politics, railway specialists were lobbying for his support.

'I realised that the railway groups were totally fragmented and helped them to bring the umbrella over one group.' In 2001 the individual parties merged to form the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, which Quinn chairs, although the West Coast group continues to operate independently.

He recently applied this model to the various tunnelling groups.

'Tunnelling is a phenomenal export-earner and by merging the various groups and rebranding it into the Underground Space Group, the industry has the spotlight turned onto it.'

With the virtues of integration at the forefront of Quinn's mind it is not surprising that he is keen to see the merger of the ICE with other engineering institutions.

'They would have more influence with one talking head rather than being 40-odd voices, often contradicting each other, which frankly doesn't impress anyone in the corridors of power.'

Having entered the political arena by joining the Labour Party at 16 and later becoming a union representative, Quinn is keen to see more civil engineers promoting both themselves and the profession, whether it is on local parish councils or through national competitions. The key, he says, is more exposure.

'At the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Ceremony for Innovation there were 80 excellent projects and not one was a civil engineering project. I was deeply offended, ' says Quinn.

'If you want to win a raffle you have to buy a ticket and we [civil engineers], just don't enter.'

Quinn's criticisms are born of frustration that UK civil engineers don't get the recognition they deserve and he says it is up to the individuals to raise the profile of the profession.

'New Civil Engineer should be a vision, not just a magazine, ' he says.

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