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ARB should get its act together or get out of the way

Were the Architects Registration Board a commercial company, heads would surely have rolled. When a current and past president of the riba, a Royal Gold Medallist, and the latest Stirling Prize winner, resign in disgust over the behaviour of the board and its leadership, it is time for the leadership to accept that it has failed.

Much of the trouble lies in an inability to communicate - with its members, with the public, and even, as recent antics so clearly show, with members of its own board. There is an aura of secrecy, which is insulting to the membership (which is, after all, a community of responsible adults). The aj has always argued that the arb should be subject to proper scrutiny. arcuk, the body it replaced, allowed the press to attend its council meetings, and while the stories were rarely breathtaking, it guaranteed that serious issues would be ventilated beyond closed doors. The arb mistakenly believes in a policy of suppressing discussion, or issuing letters which purport to clarify legitimate press coverage and comment, yet leave the reader baffled.

From a journalist's point of view, the arb provides great copy. But at what cost? It has become a public relations nightmare, dogged by accusations of botching the writing of a conduct code, making up its own procedures, and failing to appoint as registrar the candidate identified as best for the job.

Judging by the aj's postbag, architects' expectations are not excessive. They do not expect the arb to deliver inspired leadership or high-profile spokesmen for the profession, and they are not much interested in hearing about its de Rijke Marsh Morgan refurbishment or its new dot-matrix logo by Cartlidge Levene. Nobody expects the arb to be fashionable, flamboyant or fun. All that is asked of the arb is that it carries out its self- professed task of 'protecting the consumer and safeguarding the reputation of architects', but that it does so with competence. At the moment it is providing scant public protection at vast cost and is insulting a decent profession by its behaviour. Either the board develops into what Parliament envisaged, a minimalist body with light-touch responsibilities for education and conduct, or its whole existence should be called into question.

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