Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Recalling the German Ambassador

Reading the Opinion feature in the Irish Times on Friday by the German Ambassador Dr Eckhard Luebkemeier, I recalled his visit to UCD last November for the EGA Annual Panel Discussion chaired by Pat Kenny of RTE.

Dr Eckhard Luebkemeier and Stephen Donnellly TD

Pat Kenny, Chairman of the UCD EGA Panel Discussion

'We Germans need Europe as much as Europe needs us' he said on Friday 'Europe's prosperity depends on our ability to measure up to countries like the US, Japan and China. That is why even 'big' Germany has a fundamental interest in a strong Europe. Our prosperity depends on a prosperous Europe because the single market is and will remain our most important trading place.'

Dr Luebkemeier's article last week was building on the theme of the EGA Panel Discussion last November 'Can We Shape Ireland's Recovery on the German Model'. Last November he stated 'Germany is the country with most neighbours in Europe, our prosperity depends on prosperous European partners. We are acutely aware that we are where we are and where we want to be: a nation-state in Europe whose peace, prosperity and democratic stability of its European neighbours.'

The Ambassador is a very skilled and astute diplomat. He showed this when he was interviewed by Pat Kenny on his morning RTE radio programme the week after the EGA debate. In fact Pat was so taken by the EGA debate that he brought two of our panellists - the Ambassador together with Stephen Donnelly Wicklow Independent TD - onto his own radio programme to debate the matter further for the benefit of the nation. It was a very strong performance by both panellists.

It is no surprise that the Eurozone crisis which we debated last November is still raging in the media and the corporate world. The Ambassador in his Opinion article on Friday also tries to be fair to Germany's critics.

'Germany can and should be criticised' he said 'we have no monopoly on wisdom. But neither have others. What Germany does have today is the 'power of the purse'. Germany is the main anchor of the Eurozone. To date German taxpayers have taken on liabilities of nearly €300 billion. With the implicit backing of the German economy the European Central Bank has taken measures of a kind and on a scale unforeseen when it was established'.

The UCD EGA will continue to debate the affairs of the nation with a growing number of stakeholders. Last month we discussed the setting up and regulation of Irish Water at our Annual Lecture. We were privileged to have this debate led by the current Water Regulator for England and Wales Regina Finn before a record audience including many leading executives in Irish Water, local authorities and the private sector.

This October we will debate another critical national economic issue - 'Can Irish Skills in Engineering Manufacturing continue to lead Job Creation and National Recovery'. We hope to have this debate fronted by a panel of leading Irish politicians, engineers and entrepreneurs. Much performance of current engineering manufacturing in Ireland comes from FDI companies in Computing, Pharma and Medical devices which is driving our export growth. At the same time, manufacturing by indigenous Irish firms in Food Processing, Brewing, Agricultural and Transport Machinery are also very significant and growing.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Record Attendance at Annual EGA Lecture on Water Regulation

There was a record attendance at the UCD EGA Annual Lecture last Wednesday evening. We were honoured that Regina Finn Chief Executive of OFWAT Water Regulator for England and Wales agreed to give this year's lecture. No doubt that the subject matter of the lecture on the regulation of water utilities and the quality of the speaker drew the very large crowd to the Clinton Auditorium on the UCD Campus.

Regina gave a fascinating account of setting up OFWAT as CEO in 2006. The England and Wales solution to the regulation of water was the attraction of private sector expertise management and capital coupled with the setting of environmental and quality standards and the protection of consumers from monopoly power.

Regina Finn giving her lecture.
She set about addressing regulation of 20 regional monopolies in an industry with a turnover of more than £10.5 billion. The water companies had been privatised in 1989.

There has been a lot of success in water regulation to date. Leakage has fallen by 40% since 1995. £108 billion has been invested and customer bills are 30% lower in England and Wales than they would have been. The water network is functioning better and environmental quality has improved especially with over 100 Blue Flag beaches and fish have reappeared in the River Thames again.

Most important of all, customer service is significantly better with a 99% reduction in the risk of customers experiencing low water pressure.

New challenges facing OFWAT are climate change causing more droughts and floods, the need for more flexible transfer arrangement between regions with water surplus to those with scarcity. There are also challenges with the tough economic climate and falling incomes, a growing UK population, over-abstraction and increasing environmental challenges required an extra £100 billion to meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.

OFWAT stakeholder opinion surveys show a greater confidence in the need for regulation from larger business and least from the domestic consumers. There is obviously less possibility for  cost efficiency gains in more recent years as the early gains were 'the low lying fruit'. In addition, sustainability remains a major challenge in social environmental and economic terms.

Three former Presidents of Engineers Ireland - John McGowan, Liam Connellan, Michael Higgins, listen intently to Regina's presentation

After her presentation (which will be posted on this website next week) there were many and varied questions from the audience ranging from the challenge of sustainability, how OFWAT deal with customers who don't pay their bills and universal metering only (50% of all customers are metered). The issue of a possible 'generous free allowance' to domestic customers was raised in England and Wales in terms of adverse customer reaction. Also raised was the variability of charges across the regions.

Regina revealed that UK legislation is weak in dealing with customers who don't pay their charges. On metering I think her best quote of the night (look out some Irish politicians!) was that 'metering is the fairest way to charge for water'.

UCD Dean of Engineering, Gerry Byrne, Regina Finn, UCD EGA President PJ Rudden, UCD Deputy President Mark Rogers at the UCD EGA Annual Lecture 2013
The very large attendance including senior officials of Irish Water, the local authorities, Environmental Protection Agency, Commission for Energy Regulation, semi-state bodies, National Treasury Management Agency,  Chambers Ireland, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Construction Industry Federation, ICTU, leading consulting engineers and contractors, legal and financial consultants.

EGA Board Members with Regina Finn - Sean Murphy, Robyn Kelly, Angela Treanor and P J Rudden
The feedback messages and emails from those who attended felt it was an excellent discussion and debate on a hugely important national topic. Water is after all the most important food we produce as a nation and water deficiencies can have very serious social, commercial, industrial and public health consequences. Thus the huge focus on this in the political world as the new utility Irish Water is set up.

We wish to sincerely thank Regina - a Dublin native - for coming from London to give the lecture and to the very large attendance who came to UCD to show their interest.

Friday, 3 May 2013

UCD Engineers organise European Green Capital event at EU Environment Council in Dublin

Three UCD engineers led the management of the European Green Capital event on behalf of the EU Commission last week in Dublin Castle at the EU Environment Council under the Irish Presidency. The European Green Capital Award similar to the European City of Culture is awarded by the EU Commission to a different city each year for outstanding environmental performance. The three RPS engineers - Dr Katie O'Neill (BAgrSc (Eng) Biosystems 2003), Angela Treanor (BE Civil 2011) and myself (BE Civil 1975) led the EU Commission Secretariat for the award. Another engineer on the team Ciara Murphy (with BEng in Structural Engineering and an MA in Public Relations with New Media from CIT) led the PR for the event.

Federico Ramos Spanish Environment Minister, P J Rudden RPS Director of European Green Capital Award (EGCA) Secretariat, Dr Katie O'Neill Project Manager EGCA Secretariat  Dr Janez Potocnik EU Environment Commissioner, Javier Moroto Mayor of Vitoria Gasteiz, Phil Hogan TD Irish Environment Minister, Angela Treanor RPS / EGCA Secretariat  Karl Falkenberg Director General of DG Environment European Commission and Ciara Murphy RPS / EGCA Secretariat

Winning cities to date have been Stockholm (2010), Hamburg (2011), Vitoria Gasteiz (2012), Nantes (2013) and Copenhagen (2014). Stockholm was awarded in 2008 as each city gets two years to prepare for hosting the award with events, conferences and generally acting as a European role model from whom other cities can learn. The 2015 winning city will be announced in Nantes next month. The four shortlisted finalists are Bristol, Brussels, Glasgow and Ljubljana capital of Slovenia.

The competition is open to all European Cities with a population over 200,000. Vitoria Gasteiz has a population of 242,000 and is the capital of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Dublin entered the competition for the 2010 and 2015 Awards.

The event in Dublin Castle was hosted by the Irish Presidency led by Minister Phil Hogan who chaired the Council Meeting. Presentations on the European Green Capital concept were made by EU Environment Commissioner Dr Janez Potocnik, Director General of DG Environnment and Mayor of Vitoria Gasteiz the European Green Capital in 2012 - Javier Moroto Aranzabal. All three spoke passionately about the importance of the Award as three out of every four EU citizens live in an urban area big or small.

The Commissioner stated the importance of sustainability of cities is underlined by the soon to be adopted 7th EU Enviromental Action Plan - 'Cities define our future' he said 'as most envionmental pressures arise in cities from traffic congestion to water and waste issues'. Director General Falkenberg said the European Green Capital stood for the principal issues which dominate the work of DG Environnment. He compared the 12 technical criteria on which cities were judged by experts as the 12 stars on the EU flag - climate change, mobility, biodiversity, open space/sustainable land use, air quality, noise, water management, wastewater treatment, waste management, energy efficiency, environmental management systems and eco-innovation.

Prior to the event the Mayor Moroto of Vitoria paid a courtesy call to the Dublin Lord Mayor Cllr Naoise O Muiri in City Hall. Both Mayors discussed the city government systems in both Irish and Spanish democracy. The Lord Mayor and Acting City Manager also showed their visiting guest the Dublin City Chamber where meetings of the City Council take place.

Rachel Purcell RPS, Ciara Murphy EGCA, Dr. Katie O'Neill EGCA, Mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz Javier Maroto, Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr. Naoise Ó Muirí, Izaskun Ruiz Intern with RPS from Vitoria-Gasteiz, Angela Treanor EGCA, PJ Rudden EGCA

On the following day EU Commissioner Potocnik and myself addressed the Dublin Chamber of Commerce 'Green Economy Forum' - the Commissioner on general EU environment policy and how it had to make economic sense to be workable for business and myself on the European Green Capital policy and implementation gearing towards sustainable urban living.

Werner Kruckow CEO Siemens, Dr. Janez Potocnik EU Environment Commissioner, Gina Quinn CEO Dublin Chamber of Commerce, PJ Rudden RPS and Director of European Green Capital Secretariat and Paul Hallam Chairman of Dublin Green Economy Forum

All in all a very busy two days not to mention the months of preparation that went into the run up to the Irish Presidency event with the 27 Member State Ministers. We were proud to represent the EU Commission at these events as professional engineers but proud too of another hugely successful Irish Presidency presiding over Europe.