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RIBA president pay debate heats up

Angela Brady leads demands for role to be paid salary of upto £50,000 to attract best candidates and avoid uncontested elections

The RIBA is considering fresh plans to pay its president following a ‘shocking’ lack of interest in the unpaid role.

Spearheaded by current president Angela Brady, the debate comes hot on the heels of May’s elections, which saw only one candidate, Stephen Hodder throwing their hat into the ring.

Offering remuneration for the ‘demanding’ post has won the support of small and sole practitioners and a raft of past presidents including Ruth Reed, George Fergusson and Jack Pringle, on the basis of a four or five-year term. 

An internal working group on the matter including past president Sunand Prasad is set to present its findings to institute chiefs ahead of a potential debate on the issue at RIBA Council early next year. Attempts to remunerate the position in 2001, and again six years later were rejected, yet the subject continues to resurface.

Threatening a radical break with tradition, the new direction could see incumbents paid £50,000 per annum across two years. The exact figure sum, how it is paid, and whether it is given to an individual or their practice has yet to be confirmed. 

Officially a three-day-a-week role, presidents are expected to complete a range of ‘core duties’ including chairing meetings of RIBA Council and RIBA Board, being ambassador for the RIBA at the ‘highest level’ and signing cheques for sums in excess of £50,000. 

‘Desirable activities’ include chairing the President’s Medals jury, hosting RIBA national and regional events and participating in international architecture organisations.

With only ‘reasonable expenses’ paid to cover travel and accommodation costs, past figureheads have relied on support from a practice or employer to carry out the role, which includes a year shadowing the incumbent as president elect.

Brady said payment for loss of income was ‘absolutely’ necessary to ‘cover the huge costs that affect being president’. 

‘I want the president’s position to be as open and diverse as possible,’ she said, warning many ‘good candidates’ held back, fearing they could not afford the presidency.

Without payment, the role ‘really only welcomes the
semi-retired directors from the larger firms who are not necessarily best-placed to represent our working profession,’ she claimed. ‘Nor might they have the energy and commitment to try and radically change things for the better.’

Pre-empting a debate over whether payment will attract career politicians, she argued: ‘£50,000 these days is not a salary that will attract the wrong type of person to the job – somebody only after the money.’

ARB board member and former RIBA councillor John Assael said this year’s uncontested election proved the current set up was ‘fundamentally flawed’. 

He added: ‘One year, we might find that nobody stands.’

Associate representative on the RIBA Council, Alex Scott-Whitby said: ‘It has been tabled many times before and it has taken up until the last presidential election to frighten people into the position when only one person stood above the parapet.’

Alfred Munkenbeck of Munkenbeck+Partners commented: ‘The RIBA is now practically run by its staff. The chief executive and staff are almost never architects and often misunderstand at a detail level, what is needed. A strong lead, therefore, must come from the president and if they were paid, they would at least be on a par with the full-time staff rather than being seen as well-meaning volunteers.’

 

Comment: RIBA presidents

 

Ruth Reed

Ruth Reed

Ruth Reed   (2009-2011)

The President should be remunerated at a reasonable rate based on current charge out rates for senior staff. It is an extraordinary idea that payment would undermine the role, non-payment results in the post being the preserve of the rich, those inspired enough to work for nothing for a significant part of 4 years, the retired, or in my case, sponsored. Diversity is the key to effective representation.

Jack Pringle

Jack Pringle

Jack Pringle (2005-2007)

I see an argument for paying presidents with, say, a four or five year term.  That’s about how long it takes to change how things are done at a systemic and governmental level and it would be difficult to get someone to do that length of time ‘pro bono’. The president would then be more of a tag team with the chief executive.

George Ferguson

George Ferguson

George Ferguson (2003-2005)

My view is that it needs a basic salary with generous expenses to enable the job to be most effectively carried out. It should not be a 5 day a week job – but realistically is a 3 day one – so how about 3/5th of average practice principal pay which I believe is little more than £50k – so £30k + expenses is my starter for ten.

Frank Duffy (1993-1995)

There was an RIBA working party about five years ago (when Sunand was President, if I remember correctly) which looked into this issue and which I chaired. The decision then was that payment would not be a good idea. But it’s interesting that the same issue has re-emerged in the context of much harder times and our recommendation could quite possibly be reversed.

 

Small and sole practitioners

 

Elena Tsolakis, Kyriakos Tsolakis Architects
Were you aware the job was unpaid? Yes
As a small practitioner I cannot imagine being able to take on the role without support and that would be very hard to ask of a small company. Someone would have to be financially very comfortable to pay for it themselves which narrows the pool of people down.

 

Zohra Chiheb, ZaP Architecture
Were you aware the job was unpaid? Yes
A reasonable stipend should be compulsory. I cannot believe that it is not considered worthy of payment.  We have been lucky that the position has attracted the calibre of personality we have at present (and have had in the past), and this is down to the selflessness of the individual.

 

Jerry Tate,Jerry Tate Architects
Were you aware the job was unpaid?Yes
Having the RIBA President role unpaid looks good in the first instance, as you are giving back to the profession in an ‘altruistic’ capacity. However this pre-supposes that you have the financial resources. In the end this is socially divisive, in the same way that a long university course with high fees is potentially elitist.

 

Peter Morris, Peter Morris Architect
Were you aware the job was unpaid? No
How could a sole practitioner without financial backing or a big practice possibly run? Considering the majority of members are sole practitioners, a salary would give this voice a fighting chance. It also sends out the wrong message that Architect’s do it for nothing.

Chris Roche, 11.04 Architects
Were you aware the job was unpaid? Yes

A President working for free, is as ridiculous as architects or students in employment giving their time for free – we need society to appreciate the economic value of the profession, not suggest architects give their time for free, be they students, practitioners, or Presidents. A salary would encourage the brightest and best to come forward, irrespective of their practice size.

 

Chris Medland, one-world design
Were you aware the job was unpaid? No
The person elected for that role needs to be given an income commensurate with the responsibility the position brings. On election the board should agree a series of deliverables based on the presidents elects’ manifesto and good housekeeping duties; annual appraisals should be published of how the president performs against these targets.

 

Mark Power, Mark Power Architect
Were you aware the job was unpaid? Yes
My practice could not sustain my frequent absence nor corresponding loss of earnings. Even large practices can suffer considerably from the prolonged absences of one of their principals that the presidency requires especially as this actually entails a four or five year commitment first as candidate, then as president-elect, then two years as president, then as past president.

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Did anyone think to ask Stephen Hodder his opinion?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • The article suggests that the Presidency is for a 3 day per week job x, say, 46 weeks = 138 days p.a. If the suggested salary is £50,000 each year then the remuneration would be about £350 per day and if, as the article suggests, the £50,000 is spread over 2 years it comes to about £175 per day. Two points - why should the President's own practice pay for the practitioner's work as President when the job should be of benefit to all architects? We have a builder who is reluctant to charge less than £200 per day so what value to do we put on architecture?

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