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RIAS' exile recruitment needs more explanation

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The economics of the proposed plan by the RIAS to recruit exiled Scots merit rather more scrutiny and explanation than was afforded in Robert Booth's news feature (AJ 15.6.00) and Sebastian Tombs' response (AJ 7.7.00), since it impacts upon the finances of the RIBA to their detriment. The proposals suggested by RIAS president Iain Dickson are not about targeting a relatively small part of the Scottish architectural diaspora, but more fundamentally about convincing architects in Scotland to relinquish membership of the RIBA in favour of the RIAS, thereby making a more substantial contribution to the incorporation's coffers than they currently do.

The facts are made plain in theRIAS annual report for 1999. RIAS

membership income is derived from two sources: those who pay directly to the RIAS and those who are members of the RIBA and who, by extension, are members of its regional branch otherwise known as the RIAS.Those architects in Scotland who pay solely to the RIAS for the privilege of having the letters ARIAS after their name paid a total of £102,185 into the organisation, while those who pay membership fees directly to the RIBA

contributed a capitation of £182,830 to the RIAS. Those in Scotland who pay to get RIBA after their name also get ARIAS at no extra cost, a benefit not available to other members. It is clearly these people the RIAS wishes to convert to membership of its organisation alone, since a substantial additional sum would accrue to the incorporation, albeit at a major loss to the RIBA.

Why should such a turf war be necessary? Again the accounts spell it out - RIAS staff costs in 1999 were £452,865, some £167,850 more than the £285,015 total membership fees.

Clearly the income from this source does not even begin to touch the edges of the salary bill, never mind other overheads (not to mention services to members). If all members were to pay only to the RIAS, some - but not all - of this imbalance could be addressed.

There will be many wondering what an organisation actually does if all its income (and more) is swallowed up by staff costs alone, but the

RIAS is a registered charity, with a separate trading company which - in theory - covenants its profits to the incorporation. Trading turnover for RIAS Services Ltd is indicated at £1,091,010 - on the face of it a healthy sum for an organisation with just over 2000 members.

But net profit was a piddling £10,901 (0.99 per cent) which was in any case wiped out by the previous year's loss of £31,702 - a net deficit of £20,801.

The accounts go on to state that theRIAS has undertaken to provide financial support to RIAS Services Ltd to meet this - ie the incorporation continues to have to prop up the finances of its trading company.

The RIAS could look to other opportunities to balance its books.

Its headquarters at 15 Rutland Square are a tangible fixed asset, listed under heritable property in its 1999 annual report.Astonishingly, it does not appear to have been valued since 1987, with an estimated (then) worth of £240,000. Since its premises are wholly owned, some form of mortgage arrangement could free up capital, but sale of the Rutland Square premises would release funds to purchase a more suitable property or, if invested, provide an income stream which could go towards rental of more efficient office accommodation. Richard Murphy has recently argued in the RIAS' own magazine that the Rutland Square premises should be sold to provide funds for an architecture centre in Edinburgh: far better perhaps for the RIAS to stabilise its financial position and then pay a little more than its current lip-service towards ensuring the future of Scotland's existing architecture centre - the Lighthouse.

The notion that architects might pay separate (ie greater) fees to join both the RIAS and the RIBA is risible, and it is notable that in demanding more of the latter organisation's cake, RIAS' president Iain Dickson does not offer prospective (or existing) members an improved service.

How much better such a service could be might be gauged by his remark that a great deal of work is required, reporting to four separate committees of the 'Scottish Assembly'. Since it is not an agency of the executive, the RIAS does not in fact report to government - it, like everyone else, can merely lobby. And Scotland has a devolved Parliament:

it is Wales which has an Assembly.

Peter Wilson, director, Manifesto Foundation for Architecture, Edinburgh

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