The amount the Architects Registration Board (ARB) spends on legal fees each year has mushroomed again - increasing from £853,648 to a huge £938,557
More from: ARB's legal fees balloon again
The 10 per cent rise in the watchdog’s legal costs, which is set out in the board’s recently published annual report and financial statement for the year ending 31 December 2013, follows on from last year’s 25 per cent hike (see below).
Nearly a third of the annual retention fees paid by the UK’s 34,266 architects to the board (£3.4million) is being spent on legal costs.
According to the ARB, the rise mirrors the growing workload of its Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) which held 27 formal hearings and looked into nearly 400 cases regarding the misuse of the title ‘architect’.
A spokesman said: ‘This [£938.557] figure contains not only legal fees, but includes all the costs of running the ARB disciplinary regime as required by law. It is also a figure that was within the agreed budget for 2013, so not unanticipated.
‘The increase primarily relates to the rise in the workload of the Professional Conduct Committee - sitting days were up by 62 per cent from 2012 - and the introduction of new investigation procedures, which while improving performance, did incur additional costs’.
The figures have been met with anger by architects.
Former RIBA president Jack Pringle said: ‘The ARB remains a pointless tax on the profession. Why it spends nearly £1million on legal fees I can’t imagine. But it remains a huge danger to the existence of the RIBA - the world’s most respected and influential institute for architects.’
George Oldham, who was reprimanded by the ARB board for his ‘ethnics’ email gaffe in early 2013, said the board had spent the legal costs ‘on unnecessarily and vindictively prosecuting small practices and sole practitioners, secure in the knowledge that their victims can’t afford to match the lawyers’ fees to fight them.’
He added: ‘The RIBA’s response is to try to persuade the government’s forthcoming review to reform the ARB’s disciplinary procedures. This increase proves that the ARB is incapable of reform. The only solution is abolition of this malign organisation, and architects should write to their MPs demanding that this pointless and parasitic body should join the bonfire of the quangos.’
Long term ARB critic Ian Salisbury said he was not surprised by the figure. He said: ‘[The board is] having to pay their PCC clerks much more these days, and as far as I can see the ARB is always legally represented at PCC hearings.
‘Inequality of arms is a pressing issue, particularly when many in the profession, especially away from the South-East, are still earning at sub-economic levels.’
The annual report revealed the ARB had paid £1,257,008 to its staff for the year ending 2013, as well as £227,852 in computer charges, £55,310 in expenses to board members and £55,202 in printing costs.
The board’s total income over the 12 month period rose 22 per cent to nearly £3.7 million from £2,7million in 2012.
Previous story (AJ 13.06.13)
Huge 25 per cent hike in ARB’s legal costs angers architects
The Architects Registration Board’s legal fees for enforcement actions have ballooned by nearly 25 per cent in the past year
The watchdog’s legal costs for ‘regulation’ increased from £456,661 to £604,878, while total legal costs rose by nearly 20 per cent from £688,040 to £853,648. The rise, which follows a spate of Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) cases against architects, means nearly a third of fees paid by the UK’s 34,174 architects to the board (£2.8 million) is being spent on legal costs.
Among the protracted proceedings that have hit the headlines are the George Oldham case, in which the board ran up a £20,000 bill reprimanding Oldham for his ‘ethnics’ email gaffe, and Faheem Aftab, who took his case to the High Court to overturn a charge of dishonesty.
According to the recently published annual report and financial statement for the year ending 31 December 2012 (see attached), the board’s registrar, Alison Carr, highlighted the ongoing and ‘significant risk’ posed by potential ‘judicial review or legal action in respect of decisions taken by the board, the registrar or PCC’.
The shock revelations come just months after the board voted unanimously to approve a huge £18.50 rise in the retention fee – a 23 per cent hike.
Long-term ARB critic Ian Salisbury said: ‘This rise in legal fees comes as no surprise, bearing in mind the number of bungled disciplinary cases there has been of late. It is time that the ARB’s supervisors at the DCLG took an interest. Though the money spent is not government money, the board is a public corporation that should be publicly accountable.’
Andrew Plumridge, who was struck off for ‘unacceptable professional conduct’ but is intending to challenge the decision, added: ‘[The hike] implies that ARB is taking action in far too many cases, especially when a chat would be much more effective. The board seems to be much too eager to believe anyone who comes forward with a grudge. These figures fuel criticism at a time when a growing number of architects and politicians believe the board is increasing its prosecution rate simply to justify its existence and expand its reach.’
Former RIBA president and long-term ARB-backer Owen Luder was also critical of the rising legal costs. He said: ‘It is important that ARB has the support of the majority of the profession. Several recent disciplinary cases do appear to question whether ARB in dealing with complaints against architects is in danger of exceeding its statutory powers.’
A spokeswoman for the board said nearly £40,000 of the total increase followed the 85 per cent rise ‘in both prosecutions and caseload’ tackling protection of title. She confirmed the remaining upsurge related to costs associated with the PCC, which saw a 43 per cent increase in hearings in 2012.
She added: ‘[The] rising number of complaints cases is a pattern that most regulators are experiencing as this seems to be an area that is generally on the increase.’
Simon Allford, co-founder of AHMM
‘ARB is a self serving anachronism’
Architect Adrian Russell of Adrian Russell Associates who is due before the board’s PCC later this year
‘The ARB appears to waste money on professional conduct investigations by taking the complainants allegations as ‘gospel’ and ignoring any evidence produced to refute the allegations. All the allegations then form the basis of the charge. The complaint was made against me made in January 2012, but due to the cumbersome complaints procedure at ARB no hearing has been held yet.