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Quality time

I was especially intrigued by the comments of Mr Knox (NCE 11 March) on quality assurance.

Mr Knox seems to totally dismiss QA. What he has failed to notice is that QA is not about ‘paper audits’; it is about ensuring the client receives the ‘right product (or service) at the right price’. QA is designed to guarantee a project is completed on time, within budget and to a satisfactory level of accuracy.

 

I have found that it is not QA itself that generates masses of paper and paper ‘audits’, but the system developed and practised by the firms.

 

If Mr Knox and others, have had some bad experiences working on ‘assured projects’, they should reflect on the causes of those experiences before dismissing QA altogether. It is not the fault of QA but the system being used.

 

Marwan Al-Azzawi (G),5 Windmill Place, Edinburgh EH8 9XQ

 

Curse of the NIMBYs

 

At the end of your analysis article on nuclear waste (NCE 1 April) you imply that ‘an open and informative relationship’ with the public will secure a long term storage site.

 

I fear you are naive. Whatever the merits, democracy struggles to make sensible decisions when faced by NIMBYs backed by pressure groups and a press which believes any large organisation is fair game. Local politicians jump or scramble reluctantly onto the band wagon and voices become ever more shrill until the threat goes away. Recently I heard of NIMBYs opposing a wind farm in Sutherland!

 

One can see the NIMBYs point. We are all selfish. Why take the pain when you can push it onto someone else?

 

I believe we must explore different strategies. My suggestion is to think in terms of packages which include carrots as well as sticks. For example, lots of job creating inward investment might be attractive in some cases, or a national sports centre in others.

 

As to mere openness, and more information - forget it.

 

Richard Balmer (M), richard_balmer@cix.co.uk

 

Lessons for life

 

I very much appreciated your tribute to Sir Alfred Pugsley in last week’s NCE.

 

I was a student in the civil engineering department of Bristol University in the mid-1960s when Sir Alfred was the Professor of Civil Engineering.

 

He taught us a great deal, not only on the dry technical aspects of the profession, but also on more philosophical points.

 

I remember a particular lecture he gave on the subject of factors of safety. He shocked us all at the start of the lecture by making the following very profound statement:

 

‘As an engineer and for every day of your working life, whether designing something or constructing something, you will put a price on a human life.’

 

He epitomised all that was respected in the engineering professions. I wish there were more like him.

 

Peter Wilson (M), p.h.m.wilson@mcmail.com

 

Performance is the point

 

I would like your readers to be allowed, once again, to read the final sentence in Mark Philpott’s letter on routes to Chartered status (NCE 18 March): ‘You should be measured on performance, not jumping through hoops to join a club.’ I like that.

 

Performance is the goal. All the preparation - school, university, vocational and formal training and hard-knocks experience - is preparation for good performance.

 

Long may the routes to it be many and varied, to embrace everyone with the flair to undertake the journey.

 

Norman Pasley (M), Southampton.

 

Membership on ICE

 

Further to ‘Analysis’ (NCE 25 February) and the lead news story, I would like to ask why anyone should continue membership of the ICE.

 

I have been a Chartered Member for nearly 20 years, most of this spent working overseas, yet whenever I receive the subscription reminder I wonder, what is the benefit of membership?

 

There seems no interest in encouraging grass-roots involvement in the Institution, and no effort to demonstrate to outsiders the vital role of engineering. Of course the profession has little status, but what does the ICE do to earn public respect?

 

I know that much engineering work is hidden to the public but surely that illuminates a target for the ICE to aim at. We will only earn respect and gain top quality young recruits when the world understands what an important role engineers play. And of course we must first understand the public’s expectations and act accordingly.

 

I was dismayed by the environmental policy statements published in NCE. These were clearly produced by a committee, but they seem decades behind the times. Is that what we really stand for? No wonder youngsters consider us out of touch.

 

Perhaps the real problem lies in the historic split of engineers into multiple institutions. There can be few outsiders who understand the subtle distinctions. All that does become clear is that we do not work together. I suggest that unless we change our approach, the ICE will become increasingly irrelevant in the next millennium.

 

CPK Sherwood (M), 10 Clifton Place, York YO30 6BJ

 

Graduate worth

 

While the comments of recruitment consultants on graduate salaries (NCE Consultants File) were obvious, a graduate using the same argument critically is told:

 

‘Do not try to argue that attending a few lectures entitles you to more money’ (NCE 24 September 1998)

 

Graduates are a ‘common resource priced cheaply accordingly’ (NCE 20 August 1998)

 

‘Become a grey suited accountant’ (NCE 20 August 1998)

 

Comments indicative of an overall pattern in downplaying the graduate’s worth.

 

I suggest that when cheap labour helps turn a profit on low margins it is convenient that the graduate’s years of study have such little value. Given this, a significant reason for striving towards chartered status is to attain a reasonable salary. The final point is that making the route to membership harder and longer has done graduates few favours.

 

To conclude here, I cannot apologise for my negativity, influenced as it is by my apparent worth within this industry and my ability to contrast it with the wider world. Believe me, such graduate cynicism is common, although often combined with an apathy caused by justified complaints being consistently disregarded.

 

A few short paragraphs here are unable to give these feelings the exposure they deserve, yet no other forum for expression is available. It is time to ask the graduates for their opinions. I suspect it is a can of worms which some don’t want to open.

 

Gary Farquhar (G), 1 Savile Terrace, Newington, Edinburgh

 

New River novelty

 

I was pleased to see the New River in 2000 Years of Civil Engineering (NCE 18 March), as I had the honour to manage this historic waterway through another period of re-engineering in the early 1990s, as a consequence of the construction of the Thames Water Ring Main, so that it now supplies raw water to Coppermills Advanced Water Treatment Works in Walthamstow.

 

However, I must correct the closing comment that it ‘recharges the aquifer’ beneath Enfield and Haringey. Twenty-one new pumping stations were built alongside the New River, and these can be used to recharge the aquifer with surplus mains water from the local distribution network. During droughts, the water can be pumped back up and transferred for treatment by gravity via the New River, while a new tunnel diverts part of the flow from further north to the Lee Valley reservoirs in Chingford.

 

This innovative use of the existing asset made the North London Artificial Recharge Scheme a highly cost effective means of increasing the security of supply for our customers, while saving the need to install either small scale treatment facilities for occasional use, or several miles of raw water mains, with all the consequent disruption.

 

Kevin Horn (G), Kevin.Horn @Thameswater.co.uk

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