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Letters: Look at the real world, Mr Straw - not the one from your ivory tower

The main point:

Pile of bank notes

Money money money: Buying your way

It is encouraging to learn that the Bill on corruption is currently before parliament and is about to be come law soon (News last week). Of particular interest was the World Bank figures which said that £700bn is paid each year in bribes and 15% of Western firms have to pay these to win or keep business.

However, what measures are being put in place to stop the corrupt public and private clients, both at home but principally abroad, who don’t just expect but often demand vast sums of money to facilitate the passage of a tender through to the win stage?

Whereas I condemn the practice and agree that it should be stopped, nevertheless we also have a duty to put pressure internationally to stamp it out.

The best way would be to expose the client, which should immediately be followed up with the cancellation of all aid to the country and the particular individual or organisation taken through the courts to secure a conviction.

Our professionals will never work in that country again, but it is better than being caught up between a rock and a hard place.

  • Mario Donnetti (F),

I read with interest your article (NCE last week), “Ten years in jail if firms use bribery at home − or abroad”. This being one of the penalties included in new bribery laws.

There is no doubt that bribery is an extremely unpleasant practice, immoral and ultimately a cost added to project cost. Unfortunately it is a fact of life in many parts of the world.

It is fine for justice secretary Jack Straw to take the high moral ground by saying that “corruption is something which any decent society will not tolerate”.

However, bribery is not exactly advertised for obvious reasons, making it difficult to differentiate between a decent society and any other.

From my long experience working overseas I can assure Straw, sitting in his ivory tower, that there are many suppliers and contractors from outside and within the European Union, some not a million miles away, who are renowned for indulging in the practice.

We are told by an expert that “The Bill is far more extensive than similar anti-bribery laws in other jurisdictions such as the US” and that firms found guilty will be “automatically and perpetually barred from all EU procurement activity”.

Until this or similar laws are enacted and more importantly enforced everywhere, literally everywhere, this Bill will simply mean our contractors and suppliers will not be playing on a level playing field.
Moral millionaires, financially bankrupt.

  • D L Geeson (M), 9 Sherwood, Herne Road, Surbiton KT6 5BU



For whom the door tolls?

Tony Blair

Tony Blair allegedly used the ICE to access the Chilcott Inquiry

This Sunday’s press (31 January), reports that prior to giving evidence [to the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq war] at the QEII Conference Centre on Friday “Tony Blair went in − and out − through a door at the Institute (sic) of Civil Engineers which backs onto the venue.”

If this is true I wish to make it clear that I am unhappy that my subscriptions are going towards helping this shameless, lying miscreant.

  • Frank L. Appleyard (Ret M), Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,


Agency was not complacent

I was astonished to read your editorial comment (NCE 14 January) in which you leap to the conclusion that the Highways Agency was in some way waiting for formal publication of a report by the UK Roads Liaison Group before updating its winter maintenance strategy.

For the record:

  • We reviewed our salt supply and winter maintenance arrangements immediately after the February 2009 shortages. This included my operations director personally visiting the working face at both UK mines;
  • We started the winter with full salt barns across the country plus strategic additional open air stockpiles − as for example any user of the A3 near Liphook would have seen;
  • We have continued to assist both local authorities and owners of strategic sites, such as National Air Traffic Services, by providing significant quantities of salt where they have required it, and more importantly by foregoing our own demand on new UK supplies.

To imply that highways authorities, and especially the Highways Agency, sat around until December before reviewing salt stocks is disingenuous.

At the Highways Agency my staff and my maintenance contractors have done an outstanding job throughout the severe winter conditions − for which prime minister Gordon Brown personally took the trouble to thank me.

Similarly, many local authorities prepared well too. You say that “Engineers must take the lead”. This one already has.

  • Graham Dalton, chief executive, Highways Agency, 123 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9HA

Seasoned campaigner

The article “Pass us the salt” (NCE 21 January) fails to mention past winters and particularly those severe winters of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The then County Surveyors Society reviewed all salt stocks based on a full winter’s requirement and the known winter histories.

Based on that, minimum salt stocks were recommended for all counties and Greater London and as far as I remember were accepted even though some southern counties thought that they were excessive.

I know that Greater London created an area equivalent to that of a football field and filled it something like 2m high with rock salt.

In my own authority, West Yorkshire, we stocked no less than 234,000t (the previous maximum used including motorways) before the start of any winter with contracts in place to replenish as use became excessive. West Yorkshire could not have existed on 13 days supply − it would have closed down all the rural areas and many of the towns!

Come on engineers, use your real experience and stock levels of salt to cover the severest known winter circumstances in your area before another winter starts.

  • Jim Boddy (M Ret),

Severn facts

The enthusiasts for a Severn to Thames water transfer seem to be ignoring some inconvenient facts (Letters last week).

Firstly, there is a severe energy penalty. A transfer has to overcome an elevation difference of at least 100m.

Secondly, there is no proven surplus of water in the Severn at the times when it is needed in the Thames.

To overcome that, a reservoir is needed somewhere. Craig Goch, the old-time favourite in Wales, is hemmed in by SSSIs. Not a worry in the 1970s, but a serious obstacle in the 2010s.

There is plenty of water in the Thames, but not during droughts. The most sustainable solution is to store that surplus water somewhere within the Thames catchment.

  • Stuart Shurlock (M),

Remember the technicians

Since David Lloyd Roach’s article (NCE 14 January), I have been waiting with bated breath to read the detail of the promoted case for technicians in civil engineering.

Not since the days of the Society of Civil Engineering Technicians (SCET) have technicians been given the recognition they deserved. The article states some home truths about employers utilising graduates as glorified technicians which is nothing more than mismanagement of resources.

Unfortunately I must question the ICE’s past commitment to technicians as I didn’t meet my regional development officer until the day of my professional review for IEng AMICE.

A year or so ago I organised for the membership development officer to visit my current employer so as to talk specifically to the technicians employed there as they hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting him; it took far more organising than it should have to make it happen!

If the ICE wants to boost the number of technicians in the industry then it needs to speak to those members, understand their needs and their strengths, then give them the support they deserve so as to enthuse them into promoting the benefits of a career in civil engineering to their communities.

  • Michael Woods (M), honorary treasurer ICE Edinburgh branch,

Raising a stink over costs

First we are not allowed to know how much Storey’s Gate actually cost, (the Council minutes relating to ‘Property Update’, item number 10878 of 3 March, are restricted to Council members only).

Now we are told that the refurbishment will cost a staggering £5.19M, which “will add around £9/sq ft to the rental value” (NCE 14 January).

I thought this building was deemed necessary to house ICE staff, or have I got this wrong? Is ICE going into the office rental business?

After all, this does seem consistent with the approach now being taken towards the associated societies room-hire rates.

I am also waiting with bated breath to learn what the “expanded services for members” are to be that will occupy the vacated space at One Great George Street.

Maybe the first part of Storey’s Gate that should be refurbished is the sewerage system, because to me, and I believe many other members, this building has a very unpleasant smell about it.

  • Michael Humphries (M),

Careless words

I was very disappointed to observe the Poulos Factor article (NCE last week) referring to clays as “dense” and to claiming London Clay to have a “higher friction bearing coefficient than other more granular materials”.

This careless use of words, which have a precise engineering meaning, does nothing to advance the perennial debate about the inadequacies of site investigation.

  • John Gannon (M), Byland Engineering, 3, Concept Court, Kettlestring Lane, Clifton Moor, York YO30 4X

EC7 clarification

The article on the geotechnics Eurocodes (NCE 14 January) is somewhat blinkered in suggesting that small consultancies will struggle to implement EC7 because of lack of training and awareness.

Small consultancies can implement change as quickly as any large consultancy.

I suggest that it is client ignorance of EC7 which is the more serious issue and their willingness to accept that a future “compliant” site investigation, geotechnical design and foundation costs will be significantly more expensive.

Educating clients is where awareness and training needs to be focused.

  • Geoff Card (F), director, Card Geotechnics,



Readers' comments (1)

  • Bribery: putting people in jail for this is more about revenge than justice. Financial crimes should get financial punishments, and disqualification. No wonder UK prisons are full, when they should generally be reserved for those who are a danger to others - too many of those are released prematurely, or not even jailed.

    JG, Warks

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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