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RIBA to small firms: adapt or die

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The riba has issued a warning to small firms of architects, engineers and even builders to band together into networks or watch government promoting more and more work to larger companies in the name of the pfi, design and build and other post-Egan procurement routes.

Former institute president, David Rock, this week published his report on small-practice networks, which recommends that more such practices and sole practitioners should band together to take advantage of reduced risk for the client, lower insurance premiums, shared staff, pooled advice, cpd presentations and discussion and 'intangibles' such as security, community and human contact.

'The government, in many ways, is encouraging the growth of large firms at the expense of small ones,' said Rock. 'Witness its support for the Egan report and pfi, design build, prime contractor procurement and the bundling together of school and health programmes of small projects into larger commissions.' The loss of experienced building professionals from local authorities nationwide has also prompted inexperienced clients to go for the apparent safety of the big firm and contractor's design and build, exacerbated by the creation of the project manager role, he added.

With the creation of more networks across the country, riba regional offices are envisaged as clearing houses or 'introduction agencies' for individuals to make contact with each other, maintaining registers of interested members.

The document is aimed at providing advice for would-be small networks, listing real case studies such as the 30-practice strong Edinburgh Chartered Architects Network. It acts as a self-help manual and Rock said it should also be used for architects to promote themselves to prospective clients. Architects will only thrive by being a 'connected profession' it says, and the networks are needed because of the proliferation of architectural specialisms.

The issue is close to Rock's heart. He invented the concept of Workspace and was involved in pioneering schemes with 65 firms at Dryden Street in Covent Garden and 120 firms at Barley Mow Workspace in West London.

The booklet, written by Ian Martin, is also a development of one of the recommendations in the institute's five-year corporate plan and has been issued to presidents of all the other building professions including civil engineers and solicitors as an initiative from which they could learn.

The next such booklet will be on the subject of town champions and will be published in September. Rock has said that it will recommend that local authorities commission consultants to 'look after' towns - not simply the buildings in them but economic matters also. A booklet on housing- association procurement will follow in September, written by architect Wright and Wright. Rock also hopes new president Marco Goldschmied will produce further work on the need for retired architects working as 'mentors' to small firms, the 'mothership' concept of small firms working with large ones, and the use of workspace.

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