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Letters: Demanding more for less is bleeding our industry dry

Demanding more for less is bleeding our industry dry

Tom Moss’s exhortation for engineers to deliver “more for less” will amuse and infuriate in equal measure many colleagues working in, or on behalf of, public sector clients.

Throughout my 36 years in the industry, I have never known a period when we were not being pressured to reduce costs and increase efficiency. In fact we have done more for less for so long, we have now become accomplished at doing everything for nothing.

Joking aside, delivering further efficiencies in the transport sector is increasingly frustrated by the ever growing expectations of the public for better consultation and participation in the scheme development process. This is putting engineers under increasing pressure to give freely of their own time to organise and man consultation events - as I did only last weekend.

We have grown accustomed to year-on-year cuts in public sector budgets, but what we are witnessing now is not just cuts - it is reckless and irresponsible carnage that is bulldozing through civilised values to threaten the very foundation of our social infrastructure.

Many contractors and consultants, for example, working on hard won competitive frameworks are seeing their contracts torn up. They are then instructed to work on below-cost rates. In the short term those better placed to ride out the storm will do so, while others will fall by the wayside.

Such is simply unsustainable and can only damage the longer term prospects for the economy.

  • Brian Hanson (M),

Merge the institutions

I agree with Mike Naylor’s comments (Letters last week).The question of engineers’ status and public recognition is a hoary old chestnut that crops up with monotonous regularity but has never been resolved, least of all by the engineering institutions.

Prichard’s approach of “being focused on excellence…. raising your status” is a timid and complacent approach doomed to failure. The bulk of the public neither knows nor cares who designs and builds their public utilities, roads, bridges, airports etcetera, although undoubtedly they know the name and address of their plumber or car mechanic.

The Engineering Council is just another talking shop that few outside the profession have heard of. I even doubt whether many in the profession know what it is all about.

I have advocated in the past that unless all, or at least most, of the engineering institutions combine in a robust engineering body, along the lines of those representing the legal, medical, accountancy and architectural professions, we are, in “status” terms, on to a hiding for nothing and may as well stop griping about its absence.

  • John H W Barry(M retd),

Protect our title

I read with disgust and frustration Jon Prichard’s view of “engineers ” (NCE 6-13 January).

As a chartered civil engineer I spent many years studying to attain a degree and further years studying and working to attain chartership, only to learn Prichard believes protecting the name “engineer” is not important.

What a let-down. Prichard highlighted the fact that protecting the title will not enhance our ability to deliver and focus on excellence in everything we do. How irresponsible!

I believe that only by legislation and protection of the title “engineer” will our status increase and pride be instilled into being an “engineer”. This might even encourage young people to enter engineering.

As head of the Engineering Council, Prichard has a great opportunity to lobby for the title “engineer” to be legally protected. If we engineers don’t protect ourselves, nobody will.

  • Tom Luk (M), Ineos,

Designing pipes for frozen ground

With reference to Rod Yalden’s letter (Letters last week) about freezing of buried water mains, my experience goes back to 1963.

As a young engineer with the City of Birmingham water department I was involved in thawing frozen service pipes. Some small mains also froze.

The ICE produced a report of experiences across the country.

From memory the report did include data about the depth to which frost had penetrated. The weather this winter was, as Yalden says, a “cold snap”.m In 1963 there was a prolonged spell of below zero temperatures – an event that could be repeated and should be designed for.

  • John N Gibson (M), 6 Leycester Close, West Heath, Birmingham, B31 4SS

The true cost of water

Jo Stimpson’s analysis (NCE 20 January) brought into sharp focus the debate which is gathering momentum around how society values water.

In Northern Ireland there has been high community resistance to the concept of water being a billable commodity but recent events, which have their roots in lack of investment in infrastructure, will pave the way for water to be charged directly in the future.

However, even in England and Wales, domestic consumers only pay on average around £3 per person each week for water and sewerage services, which include drinking, cooking, washing, transportation of our bodily wastes, and wastewater treatment before water is returned to the environment.

This is around the same price as a large cafe latte, a pint of beer, or a take-away sandwich, so it is hardly expensive. What the consumer actually pays for is the capital and operational costs of moving and treating the water because as yet we don’t put a value on the liquid itself.

Steeply rising global demand for water for drinking, industry and agriculture, together with unavoidable changes in its temporal distribution due to climate change mean that water is fast becoming a scarce resource. Though the United Nations has ruled that drinking water is a human right, each of us has a water footprint (which includes water embedded in our food and clothing) which is 30 times that which we buy from companies.

This should mean that society will move to accept that water has an intrinsic value, both in the sense of its economic value for uses which are not drinking and hygiene, but also in the sense of water’s fundamental role in supporting the value to society of ecosytems and biodiversity.

  • Michael Norton MBE (M), managing director water and power, Halcrow Group, Burderop Park, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN4 0QD, UK

Do we really need so many graduates?

Philip Wainwright bemoans the fact that 7,000 civil engineering graduates translates into only 4,000 jobs in civil engineering (Letters last week).

Presumably many of the missing 3,000 get jobs elsewhere, but he is right, it is a waste.

This is part of a bigger problem, wherein we are trying to put nearly half our school leavers through university, and this is bonkers.

If a degree is achievable by half our students, it’s not worth what it was when getting one stretched our top (say) 10% to 20% of undergraduates.

Pretending that our economy can provide graduate level jobs for half of us is duplicitous, and it is unaffordable (hence the rise in tuition fees).

What we need is fewer graduates and more people getting training through apprenticeships and the like, for perfectly respectable and valued, non-graduate, careers.

Degrees should be about getting an education (rather than training by PowerPoint for the masses) and should command some respect.

Too elitist? I would call it a correction of the education/training balance and the fostering of rewards for success.

  • Paul Barnard, international power, operations and engineering – low carbon group, Swindon,

Dartford resurfacing – why so soon?

The problems with the resurfacing of the Dartford Tunnel (NCE 20 January) illustrate the peril of disregarding the original design philosophy.

Firstly, some ingress of water overhead was anticipated and a continuous concealed “roof” was provided above the visible ceiling. This carried any water to the side drains.

Secondly, the original surfacing was hand troweled mastic asphalt bonded directly to the concrete deck and most carriageway water ingress was intercepted near the portals by transverse gratings. Any spillage, wash water or tyre-born water was drained to side gullies cast in the deck units and thence to the mid-river sump to be pumped to the surface.

The load from the T-shaped deck was carried to the tunnel lining at three transverse bearing points not two.

As a young graduate engineer in Mott MacDonald’s office I produced an alternative design similar to the replacement deck but this was not chosen, although it was used later for the Tyne Tunnel. I wonder if they have encountered problems.

Natural Trinidad Lake asphalt had been used with great success on the carriageway structure along London’s Victoria Embankment. It was also used for strength and lightness on suspension bridge decks. It was replaced on the Embankment after half a century when its shiny surfaced appeared to be slippery.

Of course normal oxidisation maintains skid resistance but rugous surfaces with rolled in chippings had come into favour and were thought necessary to avoid aquaplaning on fast roads.

The first Dartford Tunnel surfacing probably lasted some 45 years compared with 11 years for the replacement. The sand layer under the asphalt sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

  • JH Fletcher (M) 8 Manor Court, Wootton by Woodstock, OX20 1EU

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