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Ratings idea is a five-star disaster

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Regarding Richard Saxon's star-rated chartered practice league tables (AJ 5.2.04), this is such an awful idea on so many counts it is difficult to know where to start.

The first and over-riding issue is the general nature of a 'star-rating' itself. The problem is that, no matter how clearly terms might be defined, the inevitable customer inclination would be to assume that the more stars you have, the 'better' you are in a broad and generally all-inclusive way. The perception would be that the RIBA is endorsing one practice over another, not simply in terms of some measure of 'management performance', but in a general way - that one practice is simply 'better' than another. This is just not viable.

And why is it that the RIBA should be seen to be specifically endorsing 'management performance' over and above what are, to my mind at least, other equally important practice skills - for example, technical know-how, fiscal control, communication, presentation, levels of commitment and - not least - design and aesthetic abilities? It is the ability to perform and coordinate all such sometimes conflicting skills, which particularly differentiate the business of architecture from so many other professions.

Saxon wants to award qualifying practices the title 'chartered practice' (my understanding is that all RIBA registered practice have traditionally retained the 'chartered' title in any case) and then further differentiate with a league table star-rating. Offered to insurers as he suggests, this would surely result in differentiated risk assessments and the potential risk of differentiated PII terms and premiums. The impact upon non-qualifying practices could be untenable.

A practice with less than the full star-rating quota would be constantly having to explain to clients why they fell short and then, if employed, would probably suffer from reduced fee expectations as a consequence.

There would remain an irreconcilable negative attachment.

Particularly crass and offensive, in his response to the charge that it would stifle small practices, is the quote attributed to Saxon: 'if small practices want to play in the bigger pond they must arm themselves to play in the bigger pond? It's all about raising standards'.

He seems to be implying from the outset that small practices are not going to qualify and ifthey want to - well, they'll just have to become big practices.

Personally, I find it unbecoming for a potential president of the RIBA to be so belittling of so-called small practices. Size has nothing to do with standards. You don't get better by simply getting bigger. If the qualifying criteria were such that small practices could not possibly qualify, simply because of their size, I can, without too large a stretch of the imagination, envisage seriously illegal discriminatory issues arising.

Saxon also talks about paying a couple of hundred pounds to 'join', compensated with reduced PII rates and marketing advantages. I cannot believe the RIBA has a mandate to so blatantly be seen to be, in effect, commercially promoting one practice over and above another in this way. The notion that by paying an extra sum to the RIBA you can buy advantage over other member practices is atrocious.

Of course it is right that practices give proper attention to improving their management strategies, and if Saxon feels the profession is short in this respect, then I fully support the RIBA in bringing such matters to its members' attention.However, his concept of how to achieve such improvements is, to my mind, crude and divisive. It is an inappropriate discriminatory concept, totally unsuited to our profession. I can only hope this awful idea goes quietly and quickly away.

Peter Bernamont, London

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