That the business regulatory team of the Cabinet Office is likely to review the functioning of the Architects Registration Board provides a timely opportunity to assess its conduct of affairs.
When it comes to the role of institutions, the crucial question is what minimum impositions are required to support and encourage best practice and protect clients from incompetence?
During my many years in education as head of a school of architecture, the division of these functions between the RIBA and ARCUK was clear cut, the former having evolved sophisticated mechanisms for evaluating and monitoring educational standards and rewarding best practice, the latter registering graduates from the RIBA 'recognised' courses.
The RIBA, as a cultural institution, establishes and maintains standards advised by its most distinguished practitioners and educationists.
The registration board has responsibility for quasi-judicial judgments concerning defaulting architects.
The division of function, based upon mutual trust, operated effectively. Progressively this trust was eroded during the late 1980s by a small clique in the ARCUK Board of Architectural Education, which challenged the validating status of the RIBA, by 1991 proposing its own, highly prescriptive, education criteria.
No critical evaluation was offered to justify this action, or revision of principle. My objections to the Board of Architectural Education were presented on 6 December 1991, but no refutation of my criticisms was offered.
The new act as set out and presented in parliament seemed to recognise that the RIBA's internationally respected validation procedures should continue, whatever body replacing the registration council discouraged from challenging or duplicating these functions.
What appeared as categorical assurances were given in parliament that the new body would be minimalist and would not duplicate the work of the RIBA.
It was required only to 'prescribe' qualifications for entering the register, and those concerned with possible duplication of role considered this would provide adequate 'checks and balances' without resorting to the excesses threatened by ARCUK.
The distant fears I expressed in 1991-92 have been revived due to the actions of the reconstituted registration board. It has progressively imposed judgments on the performance of schools independent of the collective findings of validating panels jointly constituted with the RIBA.
The clear distinction between the roles of the ARB and the RIBA have thus quite rapidly been eroded. Short term, for cash-strapped schools, this has necessitated the diversion of resources and the dilemma of divided authority.
Long term, should the ARB continue its progressive incursion into the RIBA validation procedures based upon the mutual trust of respective roles, the future of the Royal Institute as the Learned Society for the architectural profession cannot, in my view, be assured.
The ARB has no authority beyond the UK whereas the RIBA validates many courses around the world, thus providing a passport for overseas talent to contribute to our culture, with reciprocal opportunities for our graduates.
The dissipation of RIBA authority in its own bailiwick would prove disastrous, culturally and economically.
The Regulatory Impact Unit must be encouraged to analyse what minimum impositions are required to regulate the practice of architecture and then to assess whether the recent actions of the ARB fulfil expectations based upon this principle and interpretation of the act as presented to parliament.
Allen Cunningham, Eymet, France