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ARB lobbies to remove elected members from board

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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:

Governance Arrangements

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.

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • '...elections do ‘not always guarantee the relevant skills and experience needed by the board at a particular time’' - a bit like Parliament then?

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  • If elections do not guarantee the relevant skills then why not just require those skills from those standing for election?

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  • Do we even have to bother to state the obvious democratic flaw in removing elected members? And then make some stupid joke about cost of elections as a good reason to remove them? And then question the relationship/quality/networking of those members that would be hired outside of elections? Come on people...!

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  • At least one architect member of the existing board seems happy to acquiesce in their partners' belief (for many years) that they, too, are members of the board.
    Presumably they're confusing board membership with merely being registered architects, but they would do well to stick to the facts, given the ARB's apparent propensity to call people to account even if they've merely been described as an architect by a third party. Particularly when these 'members' senior partner really is a genuine member of the ARB - elected or not.

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  • ARB could offer training as a condition of joining the board. A quango run by an oligarchy would truly threaten any claim to be an independent profession.

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  • When I was the RIBA President in 1996 responsible for negotiating with the then Government and the opposition party the terms of the Architects Act that set up ARB, while I had no problem with, and indeed supported it having lay members, I was, and many in the profession were, uncertain at the new Board with such powerful extended regulatory powers over profession would not have a majority of Architect Board members. However in the end I accepted the inevitable, that lay members, appointed by the Privy Council would have a majority of one on the Board. But on the clear undertaking that the profession (all registered architects, not just RIBA members) should elect the seven architect Board members. This was to ensure the profession had a degree of control with the new Registration Board that would have far reaching additional powers to regulate alleged unacceptable professional conduct and the competence of architects.

    That assurance was given by the then Conservative Government (and agreed with the opposition party) and was included in the Architects Act passed into law by Parliament. Those elections may have at times resulted in architects elected to the Board who were totally opposed to its existence. While that may have been uncomfortable at times for the Board it was democracy operating as it should operate.

    As the only elected architect member elected to be Chairman I find it almost unbelievable that the present ARB Board should be so arrogant as to suggest that the Act should be changed so that the seven architect Board members should not be elected by the profession but replaced with "nominated" architects. Who will nominate them? Who would have, behind close doors, influence over which architects were nominated to sit on the Board.

    It does not seem that the ARB Board members who presumably voted in favour of the ARB Registrar writing her letter to the Minister with this suggestion, have thought through the implications if this proposal were agreed to by the Government. There are many employed architects who do not require to be registered to practice under the title of architect who will seriously consider opting out of registration to save the annual retention fee, and take them beyond the requirements of the Code of Conduct. Something the ARB, and the profession cannot afford to happen. But also if the present Conservative government were to ignore the undertaking given by the previous Conservative Government, which is enshrined in the Architects Act, the changes to the Act that would have to be agreed by Parliament. This would be intensely opposed by the profession and others. A government with such a small majority cannot afford to expose itself to that situation. Quite apart from that it would demonstrate a surprising lack of a sense of priorities when there are so many far more important issues for Parliament to deal with. I will be writing personally to the Minister with these views as the RIBA Past President who helped to steer the Architects Act through Parliament in 1996, who has served on ARB Board as an elected architect member and to date is the only elected architect member who was also elected by the Board as its Chairman. Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA. Past Chairman ARB.

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  • The rampant expansionism of ARB was only halted by 5 of the 7 elected members taking a stance 10 years ago. What a shame this was only released AFTER nominations for election closed.

    I'm sure the architects who pay for the ARB would be happy that 35p of their annual fee is worth it to give them some say in the running of the ARB.

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