We are all aware that the coronavirus pandemic and the measures taken to contain it have had an unprecedented impact on our personal lives, our professional lives and the wider economy. Your Institution has done much to mitigate the impact of this with the aim of maintaining the quality of service that members receive and will continue to do so. The leadership team of Trustees, Council, and the executive take this extremely seriously and have undertaken an extensive review of the Institution as a whole.
Our Trustee discussion today involved a comprehensive look at the financial, operational and functional impacts that the extended period of lockdown has had on the Institution. We also took into account the global implications for the virus remaining in circulation for some time to come.
Clearly, this will have an effect on how the Institution continues to operate and the long-term financial position. Our commercial arm - TTL - exists to generate a profit that is handed over to the ICE to enable it to perform its role as we know it today. Without its contribution we would have to adapt the way we operate.
These are unusual times, but I have every confidence that the trustees, Council and the staff are more than capable of handling it. I for one would also like to remind everyone that the Trustee Board’s principal duty is to look at and secure the long-term health and well-being of the Institution over the long term.
As part of the discussion, we heard from Andrew McNaughton, the Chair of Thomas Telford Limited, so that we could clearly understand the economic impact coronavirus has had on the profitability of TTL and hence the finances of the ICE Group. We took some time to weigh up the options that we face.
I would like to extend my and the board’s personal thanks to the entire ICE staff who have worked incredibly hard during these difficult times. It is also important to note that there is a balance of good and bad news here and we should not lose sight of that. It is important to note that there are many good things that have been achieved against the challenging backdrop - including a hugely successful series of seven strategic lectures (initiated by Council) attended by over 5000 people, all delivered virtually.
Patron, Vice Patron and Companions
Your board also considered the benefits and next steps of representation by a Patron, Vice Patron or the Companions Grade.
Since Prince Andrew has stepped away from public duties we have been without a patron, which has provided us with the opportunity to review the current situation and whether we can develop further value from future relationships.
Within this we discussed Royal patronage, the utility of the vice patron grade and whether it should be retained alongside criteria for assessing nominations for the Companion Grade. At the heart of this discussion was whether we can ensure that these grades are not only productive for the Institution but the individual post holders as well.
The Trustee Board assessed the Membership Committee’s recommendations that a patron would be desirable, and it be preferable that they are a Royal, but there was felt to be no rush to fill the vacant role. The Vice Patron grade, however, has not been filled for some time and therefore it was felt does not add value.
The Companion Grade, however, may provide the possibilities for high profile engagement that would raise public awareness, attract members, and give the Institution a potentially influential advocate. The assessment of this grade will be important and whoever is chosen must have values aligned with the Institution’s. Trustees also felt that the term 'Companion' was somewhat outdated and preferred the term 'Ambassador'
The Trustees will be seeking the views of Council before reaching any decisions.
Graduate voting rights
VP Membership Ed McCann has met with the Graduate and Students networks and understands that voting rights are still an issue which needs to be addressed. It was advised that we revert to the membership committee to investigate more deeply. We would also like to fully understand what influence and input this cohort can really provide insight in and what direct impact they could have on the decision making of the institution as a whole.
Again, this subject will return to Council and it would be invaluable if Council members had taken the time and opportunity to engage with a wide membership to garner live feedback. To change any current rights would require a ballot and of course graduates would not (yet) be allowed to vote in it.
The issue of broadening the membership, which has been raised a number of times through Council was also discussed.
The question at hand is whether we should be looking to widen the expertise within the membership. This discussion has emerged in recognition that as technology and skill sets have developed, many who work in infrastructure are not civil engineers. Therefore, what can ICE do to attract these members, or provide a professional home for them.
During discussions with Engineering Council and others we have established that there could not be any changes to qualifications that they own. However, they did agree that we could develop a descriptor, Chartered Infrastructure Engineer. This would give the opportunity to offer a home for those with tangential skills who are working alongside our members.
Understanding all these factors we believed that it was in the Institution’s best interests to pause any work reconfiguring our activity, while at the same time securing the descriptor of Chartered Infrastructure Engineer in the event that it will become useful in the future or demand rises.
The Trustee Board will be meeting again on 22 September.