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Kelly gets to grips withthe ARB's 'spinning plates'

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Barbara Kelly, cbe, dl, is a busy woman. The 58-year-old chairwoman of the Architects Registration Board is a director of Clydesdale Bank and a member of the Scottish Advisory Board of bp and of the Scottish Advisory Board of bt. She's also - deep breath - on the Scottish Economic Council, is the link director representing Scottish Enterprise on the Scottish Tourist Board, chairwoman of Training 2000, President of Rural Forum and a convenor of the Millennium Forest for Scotland Trust. And then, of course, there's the arb.

'I suppose one of the challenges we've had here was to assess what we inherited from the old Arcuk - there was a huge amount we needed to review and tackle.' She makes the analogy of the circus act, spinning plates, ensuring none of them smash to the floor. 'The spinning plates at the moment are about managing the disciplinary process effectively, ensuring the profession has the right sorts of information and guidelines in relation to regulation - how we manage the process of validating education programmes and developing an information strategy so we can better inform the public.'

Under the new act, she says, the arb felt it needed to clarify the school validation process - it will be producing recommendations for its May board meeting but now recognises that it does not have the requisite specialist skills to handle validation in-house and will leave that to the riba, academics and practitioners. It will not empire-build, she says.

Another spinning plate is the code of conduct. The arb is 'constantly' receiving comments about it and is about to start a review of its content. Kelly says that although 'it is only guidance after all' and 'we have to rely on professional integrity', a new version of the code will attempt to iron out the problems arising from architects having not really been told what actually constitutes incompetence. 'We are making it better,' she says; 'we think we can make it better,' she qualifies. Importantly, though, the consultation will be no mere pr exercise and the board will listen - as it did on the issue of pii guidance. She says she has built up 'a very good relationship' with riba president David Rock in her regular meetings to discuss such matters but the initial draft of the code was proof that 'we were all still learning'.

Born in 1940, the daughter of schoolteachers, Kelly went to Moray House College in Edinburgh, where she read education. She married a dairy farmer and became a partner in the firm, which she has maintained for the past 25 year. This experience of small business gives her an insight into the plight of the small practice.

She says she has always had an opinion about architecture, though she does not pretend to be an expert. But she appreciates diversity: 'It would be very dull if we lived on an island where there was only one approach. If I have a concern it's that the public tend to view housing designed by architects as a luxury.'

As to how the public regards the arb, Kelly feels the board's consumer- protecting remit is still not sufficiently well known. Her answer is a campaign of leafletting to cab offices, libraries etc, and a continuation of a policy of 'openness' which has extended to radio interviews, a logo competition and tv slots.

As regards 'whistle-blowing' - the arb move to get architects to report wrong-doers - Kelly is unrepentant. 'I have a view that professional integrity is crucially important - in any profession if a member is seen to be behaving unprofessionally then I think they have a duty to react to to that. I think it's really sad that the debate on what is after all about professional integrity has become debased. But no one would countenance spiteful tale- telling between professionals.' Architects, she believes, have a wider 'societal' responsibility than the customer/ professional relationship and than many other professional groups.

'The profession should take pride in that fact that architects have set up a body which is independent. The profession also needs reminding that the arb didn't write the act - we inherited it and we have a duty and determination to deliver.'

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