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Is chartered practice status worth cutting out your daily latte fix?

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Nobody likes to have to put their hands in their pockets, so the costs associated with the planned introduction of chartered practices are unlikely to be popular. But even the highest proposed per capita level, of £130 a year for a sole practitioner, doesn't translate into many skinny lattes or bottles of brown ale. The real issue, therefore, should be whether this is the route that the profession wants to follow.

There is a worrying phrase in the proposal. 'Increasingly, ' it says, 'good practice management and client care are used as clients' selection criteria for architects, long before design competence is examined.' So will the chartered practice system put all these competencies to the fore, at the expense of good design? At first glance, it looks that way. The document talks at length about risk assessment, written employment policies and quality management, with scarcely a whisper about design. But that is actually the point. If the RIBA can set up a workable charter system that means a lot more than simply that architects in the practice are members of the RIBA, it should allay client concerns. Knowing that practices with charter status are well run and efficient, clients can then start to differentiate between them on the basis of their design approach and achievements. By concentrating on all the boring bits, RIBA Charter Practice status will bring back design to pole position.

But this can only work if being chartered actually means something, and that will require verification. This is the element on which the RIBA's document is most vague, and its record in the past of policing is not great. But, if it can get this right, it could have a great basis for a marketing campaign to encourage the public to use chartered practices. In this way it may usurp some of the importance of the ARB - a result that would not displease those in the RIBA who have been waging a war of attrition with the board. But policing and administration cannot be achieved without cost. Although it looks unkind to impose the highest tariffs per head on the smallest practices, this probably reflects the true costs. Since it is such a just cause, practitioners should give up the occasional latte without too much complaint.

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