ICE President Paul Jowitt is about to step down. He talks to Olivia Gagan about what the ICE has meant to him over the past year.
A year after assuming the prestigious role of ICE President, and in the face of unprecedented political and economic turmoil, Professor Paul Jowitt believes that the past year has been a good one for the ICE.
Last October, Jowitt stated that his three themes for the year were international development, critical infrastructure and encouraging the young. He says he is “immensely proud” of the engineers he chose to be his young President’s Apprentices this year, and the international development toolkit they have produced as a result of it.
He is also confident that the Institution’s efforts to impress the importance of critical infrastructure upon the media and the new coalition government have made an impact, with ICE-backed schemes such as the Green Investment Bank gaining increasing support.
Jowitt also believes that the ICE has made strides in the number of visitors, both international and domestic, that have attended lectures and conferences at One Great George Street this year. “What thrilled me was to see people of all different ages and disciplines here.
“We have a responsibility to use our expertise to serve society in terms of providing sustainable infrastructure”
Paul Jowitt, ICE
“That’s what this building should be - a cauldron of enquiry and innovation.”
He adds, however, that he is aware that members often do not hear or see little evidence of this activity. “We need to find ways of communicating the work of the ICE to you,” he says.
The refurbishment of the ICE’s new building in Westminster, 8 Storey’s Gate, proved contentious earlier in the year. This was another example, Jowitt says, of where the ICE’s communication to its members could have been clearer.
“The best thing to do in those situations is to communicate directly. I think people appreciate honesty and I tried to be as honest and open as possible about how we could have handled our communication better”.
Getting the ICE’s message out to the civil engineers of the future, however, was a personal highlight for theEdinburgh-based academic and businessman. A girl who came to an ICE talk with her mother approached Jowitt afterwards to tell him that she “knew what she wanted to do now.”
One area where Jowitt feels more could have been done was international development. “A visit of Zimbabwean engineers to the ICE was a revelation. There’s a diaspora of Zimbabweans desperate to get their country back on its feet.” That desperation, Jowitt says, and the determination to move international development forward, have been eclipsed in the past year by the change of government and the UK’s rising budget deficit. Jowitt recalls positive meetings with shadow MPs, who suddenly found themselves in power after the election - and without the time to follow up on their earlier development work with the ICE.
Jowitt says he has also been happy to see a Systems-based approach to infrastructure gain prominence, as the question of bridging the sustainability and affordability gaps loom large. “Which is reassuring, because I’ve been teaching Systems for the past 25 years!”
In a year where the word ‘cuts’ has seemed omnipresent, May’s decision to increase membership subscription rates was a necessary one, he says. This is not least because of falling profits from the ICE’s commercial arm Thomas Telford and a decreasing income from subscriptions. “We are all facing challenging times. We’ve all made cutbacks. A zero increase for all members would be preferable.
“The ICE headquarters [One Great George Street] should be a cauldron of enquiry and innovation”
Paul Jowitt, ICE
“However, in the face of external financial pressures, an increase is required to ensure the ICE can continue delivering”.
An overall increase of 2.08% was proposed and approved by the ICE Council in July. Rates are to be tapered across the membership, with Members paying an extra £7 a year and Fellows an extra £11. Graduates and technicians will not have to pay increased rates.
“While some members will be unhappy with the increase, we believe all members will see the value in this approach,” he says.
Plans post-presidency include more time running his businesses, and less time spent commuting on the London-Edinburgh sleeper train.
His advice for incoming president Peter Hansford? “Enjoy it. Just enjoy it. It’s been fantastic.”