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Regionalisation of the ICE 'has improved its service'

Regionalisation has been a good thing for the ICE, according to a paper presented at the last Council meeting. Benefits include 'efficiencies, higher level of service and greater impact'.

However, areas of concern exist, especially where the division of responsibility between the centre and the regions is unclear.

The need to better prioritise stakeholders, such as local government, employers, universities, graduates and the public in the regions was also identified. Council will be presenting the findings of its stakeholder analysis later in the year.

There was some disquiet at Council at figures in the report that show expenditure in the regions up 75% since 2003 from £1.6M to £2.8M. But according to regional sources, the salaries of regional liaison officers had previously been paid from the centre, and their new counterparts – membership development officers – now drew salaries from the ICE regions' budgets.

The report also noted "a high expectation of improvements in services... in the regions due to the explicit link made between subscription increases and regionalisation". There was also unease over the scope and application of key performance indicators. One source wondered whether the centre was subject to the same rigours.

ICE director general Tom Foulkes dismissed perceived differences in outlook between the centre and the regions as a "false dichotomy".

"The relationship between the centre and the regions is an evolving one," he told NCE. Foulkes expects, and welcomes, "lively debate" on this work in progress. "We are still at the beginning of the beginning with this project," he said. "Having got it up and running, our task now is to improve on its performance."

Foulkes pointed to the establishment of the regional affairs committee, now in its second year. He characterised the committee, manned by chairs of the regions and regional members of Council, as being "in the cockpit of policy generation on regional issues".

Foulkes was in no doubt that a strong centre of knowledge and policy was key to the ICE's continued success. But approval for regionalisation was not unanimous.

One council attendee described the regions as "vehicles for massive bureaucratic bloat".

Unquestionably, what is important is engaging the membership. "The Institution is the members," said one regional source, evoking the ICE Charter.

There is no denying that the freedom to shape a region-specific agenda has been welcomed and the Council report acknowledges the link between "evidence of greater contact with members" and regionalisation.

The report also confirms that the regions have achieved a higher local media profile since regionalisation, as well as upping their game in the way they deal with local government, regional development agencies and regional assemblies.

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