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On the way to the forum

ICE - Outgoing ICE president Douglas Oakervee insists he is just part of a team. But he has clearly driven the organisation forward.

One of ICE president Doug Oakervee's proudest achievements of the last 12 months has been to establish his industry and academic forums.

The reason is simple - he can actually see influential people getting together in the name of the ICE to discuss important issues.

'We have the bosses of 13 major consultants and contractors coming together regularly to discuss how the Institution can help them, ' he explains.

'All of them told me that the issues at stake were far to important to delegate - they had to remain with them, at the highest level.'

Oakervee now has three working groups functioning - one looking at education, led by Costain chief executive Stuart Doughty, one looking at communication, chaired by Arup chairman Terry Hill, and the third dealing with knowledge sharing, led by Halcrow chairman Tony Allum.

'We now have them all totally for the Institution, ' he reflects, knowing this was not necessarily the case a year ago.

Oakervee is clear that the Institution still needs to sharpen up its act, having lost its natural centre stage position over recent years. Not only has London's Victoria Street ceased to be the home of civil engineering consultancy - and thus Great George Street is no longer the natural meeting point - but the whole industry has changed with contractors now taking more of a client role.

'The ICE has certainly lost touch with the industry's needs.

But through these forums and the focus of our business plan, this is changing.'

Oakervee has also started a parallel academic forum this year, involving eight heads of university civil engineering departments across the UK.

He hopes this will start to dovetail with the industry forum to kick-start the vital communication which he believes has been missing for some time.

'Some things are best taught at university and some things are better learnt on the job in industry.

We must get this mix right, ' he explains. 'The mere fact that the ICE is facilitating these discussions is a new and very positive step. We are trying to get positive action rather than simply standing by.'

Oakervee is disappointed that engineering in the UK has allowed itself to lose its respected position in society. He admits this came as a particular shock to him when he returned to the UK after more than 20 years in Hong Kong.

'But I don't like to dwell on negatives, ' he says. 'Anyway, I think we are well on the road to recovery now.'

It is his recent experiences with government that lead him to believe the situation is changing and that engineers are at last starting to be noticed.

Following the success of the State of the Nation report this year Oakervee has also had regular meetings with ministers and civil servants from numerous departments, all keen to talk.

'We must work in partnership with government, ' he says.

'Browbeating gets you nowhere.

There is now clear evidence that government respects us but they will do so more with our continued engagement.'

Enabling engagement at a local level has also been a priority for Oakervee. He has spent the year working with incoming president Colin Clinton to implement the reshaping of the ICE's regions.

'I am delighted by the way the local associations have formed the new regions to sit alongside the Regional Development Authorities, ' he explains. 'The regional chairman have all worked with Tom (Foulkes, ICE director general) and Colin (Clinton, senior vice president) to make this happen. I am grateful to Colin for spending so much time and effort in the regions explaining and assisting. He must take the credit for this success.'

Clinton will continue this work to press more and more power, resources and influence into the hands of the regions and so raise the profile of the profession across the board.

But Oakervee will remain on the team, specifically to continue his work to enable closer cooperation between the institutions.

'I have a year on Council and have made it known to Colin that I am available to help in any other ways he wants, ' says Oakervee.

But he also has plans to spend a bit more time in his workshop at home. Plus there is a rumour that he may even get back into the industry - watch this space.

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