The Architects Registration Board’s (ARB) spending on legal expenses and other professional charges rose by nearly £300,000 last year, according to its latest financial statement
The regulator spent £1,184,073 in this area in 2018, compared to £901,130 the previous year. It follows a government instruction in 2017 that the ARB find a way to reduce its legal costs.
One former board member described the latest spending on legal fees as ‘astonishing’.
The amount spent in relation to legal expenses and professional charges for the ARB’s professional standards activities, excluding staff costs, rose by 20 per cent year on year to £679,337. This was lower than the sums spent in 2015 and 2016, however.
But spending on general legal, specialist advice and insurance grew by 72 per cent between 2017 and 2018 to £479,543.
An ARB spokeswoman said a significant factor in the increase was ‘atypical demands’ in 2018 including Brexit, Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, and exploratory activities around developing mutual recognition agreements.
The financial statement shows that the ARB undertook a ‘significant exercise’ in 2018 to prepare a 2019 budget that ‘took account of the potential impact of a change to the status of non-UK EU nationals’, who currently make up about 40 per cent of new registrants.
The regulator put in place a plan to mitigate the risk of a loss of income by using its reserves and also set up a staff team focused on Brexit.
Preparations for the constitutional change to the structure of the ARB’s board also required non-typical spending in 2018. In April last year, the regulator revealed its plans to shrink its board from 15 to 11 members.
Until January this year, ARB’s work was overseen by seven architects elected by their peers and eight members of the public appointed by the Privy Council. The board now comprises 11 people appointed by the Privy Council, of which five are architects, five lay members and one independent chair.
Chartered architect Ian Salisbury, a former elected ARB board member, claimed there was ‘no external scrutiny now that the board is entirely comprised of appointees rather than including elected members’.
He said of the financial statement: ‘No distinction is made in the accounts between legal expenses to assist the board with disciplinary matters, the cost of retaining a clerk for the PCC hearings and the cost of regulating title cases in the magistrates court. This is not satisfactory accounting.’
He added that the legal costs were ‘astonishing’.
Salisbury was particularly surprised by the fact the ARB holds nearly £6 million in investments, adding: ‘They have no business to be squirrelling away architects’ hard-won fees.’
The spokeswoman said: ‘As a public body, we are required to manage our finances responsibly in line with the HM Treasury’s guidance on managing public money. Prudent financial management includes using resources efficiently, economically and effectively as well as holding sufficient reserves to cover liabilities.
‘Prior to publication on our website, our annual Financial Statements are externally audited, reviewed by our audit committee, signed off by our board and laid before parliament.
‘‘Throughout the year, financial information is regularly presented to our board for review and these papers are also accessible on our website.’