After a day of headlines reiterating the government’s predictions of how unpleasant it’s all about to get for everyone, Monday evening’s Royal Academy of Engineering awards was a welcome tonic.
While the talk in Westminster was of savage spending cuts, just a few miles away the cavernous opulence of London’s Guildhall echoed to more optimistic conversation of growth, opportunity and ingenuity.
The shortlisted entries for the academy’s MacRobert award – spanning some of the key areas of UK engineering expertise – did little to dent the mood. And the winning entry – Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network service (BGAN) – was a potent reminder not just of the UK’s great expertise in space technology, but also of the role that the highest of high technology can often play in addressing some of our most fundamental challenges. The system was used to coordinate aid efforts in the aftermath of January’s Haiti earthquake.
But at events like this, it’s sometimes the off-the-record comments and anecdotes that provide most telling snapshot of the state of industry and the dinner-table chit-chat was unremittingly positive.
It is of course a subjective view – coloured by the bonhomie of a big occasion – but if there’s a message to be distilled from the engineers gathered at Monday’s event it is that the UK possesses the skills, technology and expertise to address some of its biggest challenges, create wealth for the economy and lead the world. One of the few positives to come from the financial downturn was an acknowledgement at the highest level of the importance of engineering. In the desire to slash the deficit it would be a grave mistake to pull the rug from the UK’s burgeoning areas of expertise.