Tetlow quits IMechE following training firm rumpus

A bitter dispute at one of the UK’s biggest and longest-established engineering institutes, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), has culminated in both its chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, and newly-elected president, Geoff Baker, walking out.

Both faced severe criticism from IMechE members at a special meeting two months ago, on 21 May, at the organisation’s central London head office.

The meeting had been called by four former IMechE presidents amid worries over governance and management in the wake of the collapse of a Nottinghamshire-based training firm, Amber Train. This was placed into liquidation a year ago.

The firm, specialising in railway engineering apprentice training, was acquired by IMechE for an undisclosed sum in November 2015. This move followed the sale of the institution’s publishing arm five years earlier.

“This is the institution taking action to help plug the UK engineering skills shortage and provide more opportunities for those aspiring to become professional technicians and engineers,” said Tetlow, following the Amber Train acquisition.

Stephen Tetlow, former IMechE CEO
Stephen Tetlow, former IMechE CEO

Among the motions tabled at the 21 May special meeting, the first of its kind at the IMechE in its 170-year history, was one expressing no confidence in the chief executive to manage the affairs of the institute and the operation of its trading subsidiaries.

Another motion expressed no confidence in the then president-elect, Geoff Baker, in discharging his responsibilities as a trustee.

The meeting was attended by around 400 IMechE members. Total global membership is claimed to be around 120,000.

Voting at the meeting was generally inconclusive with 52% supporting a motion of confidence put forward by the trustee board itself but 50.5% supporting a motion declaring that governance had failed because the trustees did not understand the institute’s financial state.

The motions of no confidence in the chief executive, president-elect and honorary treasurer were narrowly defeated.

But it soon became clear that this was not going to put an end to the matter as claim and counter-claim followed from the immediate past president, Carolyn Griffiths, and Geoff Baker. He resigned on 3 July, followed three days later by Stephen Tetlow.

An IMechE statement says he has quit because “actions of certain members opposed to recent reforms have made it impractical for him to continue to deliver the vision of the future of the profession he shares with other major institutions.”

Tetlow was at the IMechE helm for ten years and is well known to many truck and bus operators in the UK from his former job as chief executive of what then was the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which later morphed into the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency).

In his final year as VOSA boss, Tetlow devised the plan for semi-privatisation of truck and bus annual roadworthiness testing, which led to the wholesale sell-off of VOSA-owned test stations and the creation of the now-familiar but still controversial “authorised testing facility” (ATF) test sites at privately owned workshops. This plan was refined and put into practice by his successor at VOSA, Alistair Peoples.

The IMechE has now begun the process of finding and recruiting a new boss. Colin Brown has been appointed interim chief executive in the meantime.

Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.

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