The election by ICE Council of Sir John Armitt as a succeeding vice president from November and potentially ICE President in 2015, is a hugely significant piece of news.
It is an appointment that, in many ways, the profession has been anticipating for some time (and it begs the question - why only one year?). Because, as ICE director general Nick Baveystock made clear last week in his first report to Council after joining the organisation in January, the Institution must evolve if it is to prosper - then continue to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.
“The world is changing,” he said. “We need to discuss what the ICE and civil engineering will look like in 2025. We need to remain relevant. “
Without question the ICE has moved a long way in terms of the introduction of modern business practices, identifiable strategic aims and professional member services during the decade under former director general Tom Foulkes. However, as Baveystock is aware, it must continue to “step up to the plate”. In an increasingly price sensitive world, the ICE must be the body that truly adds value to each civil engineering professional’s career. And it must be the organisation whose experts are turned to first for the answers to tomorrow’s problems.
It’s a tricky challenge, not least as the Institution is not immune to the UK’s economic conditions. Like virtually every other public body and private business, it will have to continue to boost efficiency and remove waste from its organisations and processes.
Yet in many ways dealing with the business management side of the ICE is the straightforward part of the Institution’s future challenge. The key parallel task identified by Baveystock will be to decide and execute precisely what the ICE’s role will be in the next decade and beyond.
October’s Annual Strategy Meeting - the first in anger since Council’s recent governance restructure - will be critical to starting the process of setting out the ICE’s future agenda.
Hence the value of Armitt to the ICE. His knowledge, experience, clear thinking and expertise as a political operator have been key to his recent successes at the Olympic Delivery Authority, Network Rail and Costain before that. With no disrespect to any past or future ICE President or vice president, he is truly the kind of big hitter that the ICE needs on board right now to guide thinking.
Sitting alongside other vice presidential industry heavyweights such as former Scott Wilson chairman Geoff French and Balfour Beatty chief operating officer Andrew McNaughton, Armitt will be central over the next three years to formulating the crucial strategy that will see the ICE through the next decade.
Getting that strategy right then mobilising the membership behind it will be crucial both to the future of civil engineering and UK infrastructure. The delivery team is looking good.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor