NEW TALKS between the presidents of the Institutions of Civil and Mechanical Engineers have been launched to explore options of 'eventually bringing their Institutions together'.
No timescales have been set and the scope and priorities for the discussions have not yet been decided. However, the possibility of merger in the medium to long term has been put firmly on the table.
'We are not saying we will end up with a single Institution, but we may do, ' said Institution of Mechanical Engineers president William Edgar.
'The main driver has to be providing better membership services. We must fi nd a value proposition - by being closer together we should be able to create greater infl uence and provide a wider range of services to more industry sectors.' ICE president Colin Clinton agreed: 'The ICE and the IMechE are very complementary - our members' skills complement each other very well. We see this as a great opportunity.' These latest talks come just months after the breakdown of merger talks between the IMechE and the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE).
The ICE had attempted to join these talks at the end of 2003. But, despite full support from ICE Council, its offer was turned down by IEE/IMechE/IIE as it feared the process would become too complex.
However, after nearly two years of discussion and consultation, merger plans were dropped when the three groups failed to find agreement.
'The crucial thing about these talks (with ICE) is that we are both equal partners in the decisions. There will be no big arguments, ' said Edgar, referring to the haggling over the make-up of the trustee board that finally sank the IMechE/IEE/IIE talks.
'We have also learned that to succeed we really have to make sure we take members with us throughout the process, ' he added, emphasising that the whole process would be driven by what the members wanted.
'In the past a lot of management time has gone into projects like this only for members to turn round and say 'we don't want this', ' added Clinton.
'Nothing will happen without full member support.' Both Clinton and Edgar accepted that there were many substantial differences to overcome and said that they had already identifi d the potential 'show-stoppers'.
Although the Institutions are similar in size - both having around 75,000 members, they accepted that there were clear issues that would have to be worked through ahead of any merger. These included governance, organisational structure, buildings, commercial activity and fees differential. But they emphasised that if there was a 'value proposition' these issues could be solved.
'We might have the chance to form a single Institution or we may decide that the way forward is to put our energy into a variety of alliances, ' said Edgar.
'There is now a tremendous amount of goodwill that hasn't existed before.' Both men said they were very keen to get as much feedback as possible from members over the next few months to gauge feelings about the nature of any possible coming together.
The plan is to set up a steering group to decide how to take the discussion forward and to identify where any quick wins might be found. However, the makeup of this board has not been decided, and there are no definite timescales.
Both Institutions are undertaking major strategies to revamp their services to members and boost their impact and influence on the outside world.
In particular, regionalisation and alignment of policy and activity with the new Regional Development Agency network is key to both Institutions and the current discussions are likely to look at ways of combining to more effectively deliver these strategies.
Clinton added that the discussion had to add to the delivery of each Institution's strategic agendas. 'These discussions will not distract us from our critical path of delivering revitalisation at the ICE.'