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Charter plan awakens RIBA row

The bitter dispute over the RIBA's proposed chartered practice scheme has been reignited after it emerged it could cost sole practitioners as much as £130 a year.

Speaking out at last Wednesday's RIBA council meeting (16 March), councillors said they were 'enormously suspicious' of the scheme, which is set to come into force later this year.

Under the latest proposals, the registered-practice scheme will be shelved in favour of a self-funding system that awards charters to practices demonstrating excellent management and administrative performance.

However, both the 'real' benefits and the additional cost of the new scheme have again been called into question.

Councillor Geraint John said: 'There is a great deal of suspicion about this scheme. It seems to favour top practices and it appears that the smaller practices will be paying more.

'There is also a feeling the profession doesn't understand the scheme, doesn't want it and doesn't need additional burdens. These are very serious concerns.'

Chris Roche was also critical of the proposals. He said: 'They talk about setting a new gold standard, but what was wrong with the old one? It suggests my seven years of education alone don't imply a gold standard. But I don't need any further endorsements. And I don't need to pay for it.'

But Richard Brindley, acting executive director of RIBA Professional Services, believes the move is vital for the future of the profession.

He said: 'We are convinced that it is the right way of raising the profile of practices, and, more importantly, the client's perception of the profession. There is a general feeling in the public, whether we like it or not, that architects are very good at design, but perhaps not businesslike enough.

'The whole reason behind this is about positively endorsing practices. We want to be able to say this practice does good things and, what's more, we check. We want that third-party accreditation,' he added.

However, Brindley admitted that the benefits, such as reduced professional indemnity insurance premiums, may take a while to filter through.

'This is not a short-term fix, it will be a long haul,' he said. 'It doesn't focus on design, it's more about allaying client concerns regarding the business side. In terms of business management, not everyone is as squeaky clean as they could be, and this is a way of improving things.'

by Richard Waite

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