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Regional presence

Cover story - ICE members last week voted in a £27 increase in subscription rates.Ruby Kitching finds out how the ICE plans to spend the extra money and what members really want.

A slim majority of just 2,504 votes in favour of a rise in subscriptions gave the ICE a green light to shift the emphasis of its operations away from London to regional offices last week.

A 15% increase in subscriptions in 2006 will raise £1.2M and allow the ICE to roll out its programme of regionalisation to those parts of the country still operating without permanent staff. Regionalisation marks a major change in how the Institution interacts with its members, One Great George Street says.

While the Westminster HQ will remain the heart of the Institution, 12% of the £27 subscription rise will pay for five new regional support teams in the North, Yorkshire & Humber, East Midlands, London and the South East. It will also help secure the future of the current regional teams and national offices in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

'The subs rise means we can review and improve how the ICE operates, ' says ICE director general Tom Foulkes.

'We can change its organisational structure to have the right people and the right skills and move away from the centralised way of delivering the ICE's objectives.' The subs increase will mean that the 14,745 graduate members will pay £144, the 32,047 members £210 and 4,772 fellows £273 a year.

The yes vote has also given the go ahead, subject to Council approval, to a further 9% rise in 2007 and 4.5% rise in 2008, taking the total subscription for graduates to £164, for members to £239, and fellows to £311.

Ironically, just two years ago ICE director General Tom Foulkes ruled out increasing subscriptions, saying, 'I want to show members that we can do something before we start taking more money' (NCE 1 May 2003).

But the past two years have proved that influencing public perception - identified as the most important issue to members in a satisfaction survey carried out in 2003 - was going to be an expensive job. The ICE's five year business plan assumes it will carry an operating deficit of £1.2M in 2005 plus an additional £500K deficit in 2006 before returning to surplus in 2007.

'We realised that we couldn't reach the wider audience from one central base, ' says communications and marketing director Anne Moir. 'The regions didn't have the time nor expertise to influence all local governments and political parties across the whole country. So we decided to offer more support.' Coupled with the finding in the satisfaction survey that members cared less about the cost of subscription than the levels of service, a business plan was drawn up to 'regionalise' the ICE, with the cost to be met by a rise in subscriptions.

Regionalisation will cost almost £1M a year to maintain, with the remainder of revenue allocated to projects outlined in the ICE five year business plan. These are aimed at improving membership services and communications within One Great George Street.

'The regions are just part of the progress we're making. We've also got about 65 budgeted projects planned, ' says Foulkes.

In 2006, this could include another membership satisfaction survey, a campaign to promote and recruit technicians, linking the online library facility with other technical libraries and providing teachers with material to raise the profile of the profession in schools.

Foulkes adds that membership targets will also be set, although not at the cost of lowering standards. To do this the ICE wants to understand the demographic pressures underlying membership trends: 'We know that the conversion rate from member to fellow is 23% in one region but as low as 2.4% in another. It might be that one region has a high percentage of young people, so the number of potential fellows is low. But we need to know this for sure'.

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