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Government poised to tackle architecture anti-competition

The Office of Fair Trading was set to release a report highlighting anti-competitive practices in architecture as the AJ went to press this week.

The report, which also tackles law and accountancy, has been with ministers for the past month and the government is expected to back its recommendations with action. In it, the OFT is expected to propose changes in two key areas for architects:

the use of indicative fee scales; and barriers to entry to the profession. This second area may mean changes to the structure of education.

The report is part of the government's attempt to clean up the image of the professions as overpaid and exclusive. OFT head John Vickers last week appeared to confirm fears that architecture could be hit as hard as the other professions: 'My feeling, very much, is that the principles of competition and application of competition law should be the same across the board.'

But the RIBA, which issues the indicative fee scales, claims that they are not used for anticompetitive price fixing. 'We issue them for the benefit of people who want to put budgets together and they are not contractual, even though some architects do use them in their contracts, ' said RIBA director of practice Keith Snook. 'If they are abolished, we at the institute would be inundated with quite reasonable inquiries about costs and we will have to dream up figures in a much less helpful way.'

Also as the AJ went to press this week, chancellor Gordon Brown looked set to appease the urban lobby with a budget to scrap stamp duty on property transactions in disadvantaged communities.

However, he was expected to stop short of cutting VAT on refurbishment and the development of homes on brownfield sites, as demanded by the Urban Task Force.

The measure looked likely to be too little for CABE commissioner Richard Feilden: 'It seems like another marginal measure which perhaps helps tip the balance, but there remains a worry about whether the government is really prepared to put the resources into the urban renaissance.Where the economy is already supporting the urban renaissance it might be useful, but it is the extent of help for more rundown areas I am worried about.'

Feilden said that Brown should earmark more cash for the Regional Development Agencies and improving the transport infrastructure if he is serious about the urban renaissance.

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