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Message from the chairman Quentin Leiper, chairman of the British Geotechnical Society, introduces the Memorandum of Understanding on unification with the ICE Ground Board to form the British Geotechn

Your Committee and the ICE Secretariat have now reached agreement on all issues relating to the 'unification' of the British Geotechnical Society and the ICE Ground Board to form the British Geotechnical Association. I am now writing to advise BGS Members and others in the field of geotechnical engineering of the current position and what further steps need to be taken if a single, unified learned society body is to be formed.

Last year a 'Vision Group', chaired by Professor John Burland, reported to both the ICE and BGS, recommending that a single body be formed to represent the learned society function for geotechnical engineering. The report set out a vision and mission and identified the following compelling reasons to establish a unified body:

1. A single body for geotechnics and ground engineering would have a more powerful voice within the profession, with government, with a client community and internationally.

2. Geotechnical engineering has been shown to be a key discipline underpinning a number of civil engineering and other activities and there is a large geotechnical constituency within the UK. The present fragmented arrangements of the BGS, Ground Board and Local Geotechnical Groups do not provide a coherent focus for best serving the needs of geotechnical practitioners or of effectively promoting best practice and shows no signs of doing so. The proposed body would beneficially change all of this if it were to fulfil its mission. It was difficult to see how the vision and mission could be achieved without a single representative body of the type proposed.

3. Membership of the BGS and attendance at meetings of Local Geotechnical Groups has remained static for many years. It is likely that the formation of the body would result in a significant increase in membership. This would be a major benefit.

4. A single body would offer the opportunity for improved efficiency and economy of operation, but would require flexibility by ICE if these were to be achieved.

5. The vitality of the BGS results from its democratic constitution, dedication of honorary officers and the Committee, efficient budgeting and the resulting sense of ownership by its members. If the new body was to operate in the same manner, the model would go a long way to achieving many of the objectives of the ICE Future Framework Presidential Commission.

6. The new body would have an important proactive role to play in any scheme relating to the possible licensing of geotechnical practitioners.

The report also recommended that it was essential to retain the energy and enthusiasm displayed by the BGS membership and its Committee. This, the report identified, was best achieved by an elected, autonomous body.

The report stressed that there is no question that the single body would aim to take over, centralise or in any way threaten the independence and vitality of existing groups. Rather, its aim would be to facilitate, strengthen and support them. The Engineering Group of the Geological Society (EGGS) and the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (MIMM), as sponsor bodies of the BGS (with the ICE), have been kept informed of all our discussions and have indicated their support for our proposals.

The status of the British Geotechnical Society and its members, in both the geotechnical and construction communities, was also important to retain. This would be achieved by continuing to improve and develop activities such as the Cooling Prize and the prestigious Rankine Lecture.

The important role of the Ground Board in providing technical leadership, contributing to ICE advice to government and in the preparation of standards and guides was also emphasised.

Joint activities, such as the Joint Meeting Panel and duplication/ overlap in membership, also demonstrated that the two bodies were of like mind and can work well together for the benefit of the geotechnical community.

An important issue is the maintenance of the independence of the Rankine Fund under the control of the Trustees. I confirm that this priciple has been upheld in our discussions with the ICE and is clearly stated in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Acceptance of the 'Vision Report' by the ICE and the BGS, and agreement to commence discussions to turn the vision into practice, led to formation of a group charged with developing a Memorandum of Understanding, chaired by ICE Vice-President David Cawthra.

This group moved rapidly to 'draft 8A' of a document which identified the following:

Proposed name for the body

Definition of geotechnical engineering

Vision, Mission Statement and key objectives

Membership and committee composition

Status within the ICE


Publications, Rankine fund, regional activities and relationship with international bodies.

This document was then approved by the ICE and the BGS Committee in June 1999, as reported in the July issue of Ground Engineering. A full copy of the Memorandum of Understanding follows on these pages. All parties were aware that previous efforts had failed when financial arrangements could not be agreed.

Detailed budget discussions took place during the summer. Both parties were rightly concerned that the merger should not result in increased costs for either party. The ICE membership has contributed to the Ground Board and enjoyed its services as well as supporting the BGS by way of secretariat services - approximately £10,000 net in 1999 - for administration and accounts staff time. (Note that room bookings are provided free to BGS. Commercial rates would value this 'benefit' at an additional £15,000 a year.)

The element of ICE subscription which formerly went to the Ground Board will be redirected to the BGA.

It was therefore proposed that ICE members who are also members of the BGA should pay a reduced BGA subscription to take account of this. Non- ICE members would pay a moderately higher subscription. This principle was accepted by the Memorandum of Understanding Group, prior to any detailed discussions on the budget. I hope I have explained the reasons behind this point. I believe that it is a fair principle for both ICE and non- ICE members. The subscription levels currently proposed will, therefore, be set to reflect this principle.

A comparative example, based on Year 2000 subscription rates, would be:

I would point out that if the Ground Engineering and ISRM/ISSMGE subscription is removed from the total (we have to pay the International Societies!) our subscriptions are remarkably low. My thanks to our Honorary Treasurer, John Talbot, for his valuable contribution to our financial discussions.

The Next Step

As I have stated, the ICE Executive and BGS Committee have reached agreement on both the Memorandum of Understanding and the Budget.

I am now seeking approval from the BGS membership to merge the BGS with the Ground Board to form the British Geotechnical Association.

BGS Statutes require such a change to be put to a vote of the membership. Papers for a postal ballot will be issued to members at the beginning of November 1999. The ballot will ask you to vote on the following proposal:

'Do you support the proposal that the BGS should proceed jointly with the ICE to form a unified body for geotechnics in the United Kingdom on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding and the Chairman's article, both published in the November 1999 issue of Ground Engineering?'

A quorum for a postal ballot is 20% of the whole BGS membership. The approval of BGS members for the new statutes will be required. This will be achieved by means of a consultation process with final approval sought either at the AGM or by postal ballot.

A two-thirds vote in favour of the proposal will be required to permit the formation of the British Geotechnical Association.

I urge ALL members to vote.

Your committee and other senior members of the Society (some are identified in this issue of Ground Engineering) most strongly recommend you to vote in favour of the proposal.

If you, the membership, support the proposal, then the following timetable is anticipated:

January 2000

Establish joint BGS/GB Committee, to run the affairs of both organisations. Existing BGS Committee Members will serve their anticipated terms of office which will be carried over to the British Geotechnical Association

January to March 2000

Finalise administrative, legal and other statutory details, including charitable status and protection of the Rankine Fund. Draft statutes of the British Geotechnical Association.

June 2000

At the BGS Annual General Meeting, full transition to the British Geotechnical Association

January 2001

New subscriptions effective for existing Members.

I hope that you will support this initiative which I believe will greatly benefit our Society, the Institution and the Geotechnical and Civil Engineering Communities.

In summary, the main points in the proposal are:

the new body will take over all the present activities of the Society and the Ground Board

the BGS Committee believes that the new body will be able to represent more effectively the views of the geotechnical community

the new body will be a part of the ICE but will have a high degree of autonomy with nine of the Committee being elected directly by the membership of the new body

the ICE will contribute a substantial sum annually to the running costs of the new body

members of the new body who are also members of the ICE will pay a lower subscription than non-ICE members. The proposal differential for the first year (2001) will be £10 per annum

given approval of this proposal, tbe BGS and ICE will jointly draw up Statutes for the new body

the approval of BGS members for the new Statutes will be sought next year.

If there are any questions or concerns I hope you will raise them with me directly, by telephone (01902 316289), by fax (01902 316131), or by email:

Much work has been done to take us this far. I am indebted to all those who have contributed to the discussions, editing and advising on the Memorandum of Understanding. There are too many to mention by name, but I would like to give special thanks to the members of the various working groups (listed above) and Neil Smith, our Honorary Secretary, for their support, guidance, practical advice and firm resolve to achieve a successful outcome.

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