The Architects Registration Board (ARB) is calling on the government to end elections to its board and reduce the number of its members, the Architects’ Journal has learned
A letter sent last year by ARB registrar and chief executive Karen Holmes to officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government was released this week under a Freedom of Information bid (FOI).
Her comments, sent in response to the department’s soon-to-report periodic review of the ARB, said that elections do ‘not always guarantee the relevant skills and experience needed by the board at a particular time’.
She said: ‘In addition it may not necessarily represent the profile of the registrants, which is now becoming an important consideration to ensure the board has appropriately experienced architects.’
Currently, the board is made up of seven elected architects and eight lay members appointed by the Privy Council in discussion with ministers.
Holmes said the election process cost the ARB between £35,000 and £40,000 every three years.
Direct appointments, she said, would ‘permit the better management of succession planning and ensure that the board was populated by the right mix of skills and expertise, and facilitate greater corporate responsibility and decision making’.
Reducing the size of the board, she claimed, would ‘better enable it to focus its energy on taking strategic decisions and holding the executive to account’.
Holmes also called for the Privy Council to be given the right to appoint the chair of the board, instead of them being elected by the board’s members.
Directly appointing the board chair would ‘create continuity and allow for effective working with the executive,’ as well as being in line with best practice in other similar bodies, she said.
Using the justification that ending elections ensures better skills is like saying MPs should all be appointed
Former elected ARB board member Ian Salisbury, who made the FOI request, said that he would refuse to pay his registration fee if the changes were accepted by government.
‘It is the taxation without representation question,’ he said. ‘If the board is going to select the people that are there to represent the profession then they surely shouldn’t be levying a fee for registration. It should be paid out of the public purse.’
Removing elected members would mean the board was ‘in the pocket of the executive’, he added.
Another former ARB board member, George Oldham, also slammed the move, saying: ‘It is the last step in making sure there is no democratic discussion within the ARB. There would be even less debate than there is now
‘Using the justification that ending elections ensures better skills is like saying MPs should all be appointed.’
He said that, in the past, elected board members had stopped the ARB from extending its remit into areas such as education and regulation, which could, he claims, have undermined the RIBA.
But Simon Howard, professional standards manager at the ARB, said: ‘Such a proposal would not change the relationship between the executive and the board in any way. This is not a decision for ARB to make, but for government.’
The government has indicated that the final report of the government’s periodic review will be published around Easter.
Extracts from Karen Holmes’ letter:
1. Reducing the size of the existing board: In line with other similar organisations, the board supports the size of the board being reduced. This would better enable it to focus its energy on taking strategic decisions and holding the executive to account.
2. Membership of the board: If a smaller board was formed, the board favours a move towards there being parity within the membership, ie the board should be constituted of an equal number of architect and lay members.
3. Moving to an all appointed board: The board has concluded that the election process does not always guarantee the relevant skills and experience needed by the board at a particular time. In addition it may not necessarily represent the profile of the registrants which is now becoming an important consideration to ensure the board has appropriately experienced architects. As a result the board supports the removal of the election process for the seven architect members of the board which currently costs ARB £35-40k every three years. The board favours an open appointment process for architects and lay members alike, whereby the scheme is approved by Privy Council but administered and run by ARB. This would permit the better management of succession planning and ensure that the board was populated by the right mix of skills and expertise, and facilitate greater corporate responsibility and decision making.
4. Appointed chair: Again in line with other similar regulatory bodies, the board supports the introduction of an appointment process for the chair, with a fixed term of office to match that of board members. This would reduce the need for the annual election of the chair and a fixed period of office would create continuity and allow for effective working with the executive. It would also contribute to efficient succession planning. To facilitate the discussion we provided the board with information as to what current best practice was, which included a comparison table, which I have attached. Also attached is the output from the board workshop on this topic, which also includes some information on the composition of other regulatory boards/councils. I have also attached the recent board effectiveness review in which board members views were sought again on the composition of the current board. The majority of the questions are relevant in relation to overall governance, with Section 7- board composition being particularly valuable.