George Oldham and Ian Salisbury, two long-standing critics of the Architects Registration Board (ARB) have written separate letters calling on local government minister Eric Pickles to abolish the quango
More from: Critics call on Pickles to abolish the ARB
Pickles is set to decide on the future of the board in the coming weeks following the government’s periodic review of its functions.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has already said it is looking at ‘how to simplify the role of the regulator’ and that there ‘remained a case’ for ‘light-touch’ regulation of the profession based on protection of title.
Now former ARB board members Oldham and Salisbury have lobbied to have the ARB scrapped, with Oldham arguing that its remaining functions transfer to the RIBA.
In his letter, Oldham says: ‘There is no public interest in perpetuating this pointless and parasitic burden on both the public and profession. On the contrary, there are numerous reasons why, in consequence of its abuse of its position, it should be abolished.’
He adds: ‘The ARB costs over £3 million pounds a year as a direct charge on the architectural profession. There are additional costs to the schools of architecture in duplication of the RIBA’s validation procedures and restrictions on RIBA trade and influence in education and practice abroad in consequence of the ARB’s narrow interpretation of its prescription of qualifications, which further damages UK Plc.’
The letter goes on: ‘The overriding question then is whether this additional regulatory regime is worth the expense and restrictions on trade. Indeed is [it] necessary at all, or does self-regulation by the professional institute, the RIBA, in line with the self-regulation practised by all the other professions in the building industry, provide a more appropriate model?’
In his letter, Salisbury agrees, saying: ‘If an organisation is created largely for the purpose of criticism – which for the ARB is defined by its disciplinary function and the excessive prescriptive powers for qualifications that it has assumed – then a Gorgon is created. Public perception is the determining influence: it forms a powerful but entirely subjective link between the reputation of such an organisation and the amount of pejorative noises it makes against those it purports to be regulating.
‘So the effect of unrestrained negative regulation, as opposed to positive self-regulation, is damaging to the profession; in fact it destroys the whole ethos of professionalism. How? Because those who fear the cosh mould their professional behaviour to accord with the expected standard, rather than choosing to act in their own judgment for the best.’
Both Oldham and Salisbury also attack the RIBA for its stance during the periodic review, which has said it wants to pare back the remit of the ‘wasteful’ ARB but not go as far as its abolition (see RIBA changes tack on ARB abolition).
However not everyone agrees.
Responding to Oldham’s letter, former ARB board member Gordon Gibb said he could not accept Oldham’s ‘interpretation of law, reading of the motivations of those who serve it, or the proposals for a replacement of an independent regulator with a membership organisation’.
Gibb said: ‘You propose a model in which the RIBA could take over all of ARB’s functions for a much lower cost than incurred by ARB, by limiting the delivery of processes to the bare essentials, and presumably by not engaging in all of the unseen activities in which ARB must engage in order to carry out those functions entrusted to it.’
He continued: ‘In order for this model of stripped-down regulation to succeed at this reduced cost, for which you provide no vouching, the replacement regulator could not engage with the Qualifications Directive or indeed Europe, with the process of prescription, with the DCLG, with changing legislation or with any effective protection of title.’
He added: ‘I don’t think that this would be workable, and costs would quickly rise as the RIBA, on a steep learning curve, would find that most if not all of what the ARB does is necessary to deliver “the basics”. From my own experience the RIBA and ARB actually work very well together, each is pretty good at what they do, and I would suggest that their roles are not interchangeable and they actually need each other.’
Karen Holmes, interim registrar and chief executive:
‘The periodic review is an independent review into the regulation of architects which is being conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The ARB, along with individual architects, consumer and construction bodies and other interested stakeholders have contributed to this process which has provided everyone with the opportunity to express their views.’