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Out to win the ICE a warm reception

DAVID Green, the new president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, says it is time for the institution to stick its chin out and speak up.

Mr Green, a 58-year-old consultant from Sheffield, is talking tough as he takes over the top job at Great George Street in difficult times.

Tight margins, the slow uptake of the PFI and recession have hit his profession hard, and he believes it is time for the institution to come down off the fence and speak up about some of the problems civil engineers face.

In the past institutions like ours tended to be conservative with a small c.

We cant go on like that, weve got to stand up and be counted. We have to speak out and speak up to win respect and support and encouragement for what we are about. Our great ancestors did so, and we need to do so again.

Its unfair to assume that its up to a few major contractors or whoever to do it. Its much easier for the institutions to give a lead based on feedback from the membership.

We need to put our chin out and speak up.

Mr Green says he will be talking to the great and the good from within the institution to win their support.

And he is expecting backing from the institutions regional organisations to broadcast the message.

Sometimes the regions expect everything to come from Great George Street. I want them to play their part as well.

Mr Green has become president after a long career in municipal engineering.

As director of operations at Sheffield City Council he steered the councils direct labour organisation through the turbulent times created by government reforms. He was responsible for turning the 110 million DLO into an efficient and effective business, competing against the private sector.

He says: We had to halve the workforce over five years, reduce costs and increase productivity. I happened to be at the forefront of it, seeing that local authorities were fit to compete.

A key message he wants to get across to his members is that they now also need to respond to the challenge of change.

More and more clients are demanding a one-stop shop from civil engineers. Its no longer about mainstream engineering, its about a number of specialists working together. Its about taking a multi-skilled, multi-national approach. The industry needs to reflect that and so does the institution in its make-up.

To this end he believes it is time for the institution to consider merger talks with other bodies.

We will be taking soundings from among our fellow institutions about the possibility of combining or merging. The divergence and numbers of different institutions doesnt reflect whats going on in the industry.

In an industry with 40 professional bodies, looking at the possibility of mergers would seem a smart move, especially in the light of the demise of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors.

But while he sees a wider role for the institution as a professional body, he is clear that it will not be stepping into the vacuum left by the FCEC.

We are not a trade association in that sense, he says. We regretted what happened to the FCEC, but we dont want to get involved with whos right and whos wrong. The sooner people get together to speak up, the better.

Aside from the possibility of mergers, Mr Green has other ideas about how to raise the institutions profile.

His main aim one that seems a tall order is to get the public behind the civil engineering profession.

I detect that the public lack confidence in the profession and in science generally. I think weve got to get out there and excite their imaginations. We want to excite the interest of the public in the profession and the solutions we can provide.

The reasoning behind his plan is simple: he sees it as a lever to bring pressure on government.

We have made an enormous investment in our infrastructure and to let it go like we are, is short-sighted and a waste of public money. Its not good for the country, he says.

The key, says Mr Green, is to get the message across that reduced investment and lack of maintenance will damage the fabric of society. I think if we get the public behind it, with public pressure, you can change the governments view. The government has to have the public behind it.

In the past weve concentrated on the relationship between the industry and the client which is important but its not the overall issue any more. We have to look wider.

Over the next year Mr Greens main aim will be to give an upbeat, positive and forward-looking lead to the industry and the profession.

As well as sticking his chin out, he is determined to speak up.

Part PR man, part politician, it seems David Green is much more than a mainstream civil engineer. He is more of a mainstream businessman.

It looks like an interesting year ahead at Great George Street.