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Setting the record straight on RIBA deficit

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I am writing to express concern at comments which have a bearing on my time as directorgeneral of the RIBA between 1987 and 1994.

It is nearly seven years since I handed over my responsibilities and I have been silent in the interim about controversies into which some members of the institute have tried to draw me.

But I have one area of personal concern which has a wider relevance for the institute. That is the extent to which it has been implied that the RIBA was approaching financial calamity at the time I handed over to Alex Reid early in 1994. I have a copy of a letter from Frank Duffy, then president, published in March that year. 'The RIBA in 1994, ' he wrote, 'is in a far stronger and more optimistic position than in 1987. Bill Rodgers has seen the institute through the worst recession in the profession's collective memory.'

In 1987 I inherited a deficit of more than £1 million which it was proposed we should borrow and then repay over 10 years.

However, with tough spending cuts and tight budgeting, we borrowed only half that sum and wrote off the debt in three years.

Then came the recession.

RIBA Companies that had contributed well over £1 million to the institute's income in two successive years, suddenly found themselves unable to contribute even half of that. At a stroke, the institute lost 10 per cent of its total income at precisely the time that unparalleled hardship among architects was reducing income from subscriptions.

It was a difficult challenge to respond to. Staff were made redundant, there was a wage freeze and all activities were cut back. In autumn 1993, I took the initiative in making new arrangements with the Builder Group for the publication of the RIBA Journal in order to save up to £250,000 a year. This step was supported by RIBA Council which insisted on a balanced budget when a minority of members wanted to carry deficits forward. The only hiccup I can recall was when council refused to heed my advice and that of the honorary treasurer and restored a cut of £17,500 in regional spending, a mistake but not a fatal one.

All this is well documented in The 1987 Deficit: Causes and Cure, a paper presented by me to the council in March 1988; the 30 issues of Council Courier published from January 1988 until February 1994; and the institute's annual reports.

By the time I left, the recession was coming to an end. The institute had weathered the storm, battered but still afloat.

It is not in the interest of the institute and its members to rewrite history. The fortunes of the profession and the institute are caught up with the economic state of the nation. I hope that leaders of the profession would acknowledge that the institute managed its affairs remarkably well, not least its financial affairs, during the very difficult early years of the 1990s.

Right Honourable Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, House of Lords

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