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ARB shake-up: board shrinks but in-house lawyer plan put on hold

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The Architects Registration Board (ARB) has said it intends to reduce its size in response to the government’s periodic review of the regulator last year

The ARB said its board will be shrunk from 15 to 11 and will now be split equally between lay members and architects, with the decision-making panel headed by an independent chair. 

However, a move to appoint an in-house lawyer who would, in part, work on professional complaints committee (PCC) cases has been deferred due to potential ’legislative changes recommended [by government] which could impact the number and nature of cases being referred to the [committee]’.

The role was among a number of key recommendations made last April by the Department for Communities and Local Government – now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – in its long-awaited periodic review of architectural regulation (see ARB told to curb legal costs and rethink disciplinary procedures).

The government told the ARB that it needed to find ways to reduce its spending on lawyers after it emerged that its legal costs had rocketed to almost £1 million (according to its figures for 2015),

This report, published by then housing minister Gavin Barwell, contained a number of suggestions for the ARB, including having a ‘reduced and less adversarial approach to complaints’ and appointing an in-house lawyer.

The period review recommended that the ARB should comprehensively review its complaints and disciplinary procedures and adopted a more ‘investigative’ approach to deciding a complaint with only the most serious cases referred to external lawyers.

An ARB spokesperson insisted that work on in this area was under way. They said: ‘We consider reviewing our complaint handling to be an ongoing objective and are currently in the process of a review. Recommendations, informed by work undertaken as part of the review so far, have been drafted for consideration by our IOC and a consultation is planned for the near future.’

Meanwhile the ARB confirmed that its rethink of education and its investigation into new routes into becoming a qualified architect had also been put on indefinite hold until the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU had been finalised.

How the ARB has responded to the government’s periodic review

Recommendation 4 – reshaping the board

Our board submitted a recommendation to the Department for the Board to be reshaped to 11 members. We also provided proposed job descriptions and accompanying information to help facilitate the recruitment of new board members. The Department has now advised the new Board will consist of 11 appointed board members. Legislative change is required but our new all appointed board is expected to be in place for October 2018. While the Department will be responsible for the appointments process, we will be assisting in raising awareness of the vacancies. Half of the new board membership will be architects.

Recommendation 6 – complaints handling

We conducted a review and updated our complaints handling guidance for both architects and the public to meet the initial requirements of this recommendation. However, we view this as an ongoing objective to be revisited frequently to ensure best practice. With this in mind we are in the process of conducting our own planned ‘Section 14’ review of how we fulfill our statutory obligations to investigate allegations of unacceptable professional conduct and serious professional incompetence which will likely impact and be impact by other areas of work related to the periodic review.

As part of our Section 14 review we have undertaken a pre-consultation alongside and conducted a review of best practice in the regulatory field. Both informed recommendations that have been drafted for consideration by our Investigations Oversight Committee. We will be conducting a consultation in the near future and, as ever, architects’ views will be important and valued in this process.

Recommendation 9 – in-house lawyer

A paper analysing the potential benefits of an in-house lawyer in relation to our current processes was presented to our board in September 2017. They noted the Department was working on legislative changes recommended by the periodic review which could impact the number and nature of cases being referred to the PCC, and that we are in the process of conducting our own Section 14 review. Given this, the board considered it sensible to defer its decision at that time and to review the matter as part our Section 14 review.

Recommendation 10 – the professional complaints committee

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to amending Schedule 1 of the Act in relation to board members. We have proposed to the department that they use this opportunity to provide greater flexibility to the membership of the PCC and we have provided the department with the rationale and suggested legislative wording for change.

Recommendation 12 – Parliamentary Ombudsman

We understand that for ARB to come under the remit of the Parliamentary Ombudsman an amendment to primary legislation would be required, either by way of a change to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 or the Architects Act 1997. The next step will be for MHCLG to take a view on whether it wishes to pursue such change.

Addendum Recommendations related to the routes to registration are impacted by the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive and therefore progress is on hold until we know what arrangements will apply to this legislation once the UK has left the EU. Nonetheless our commitment to ensuring effective delivery of ARB’s statutory duties extends beyond the report’s recommendations – in addition to the Section 14 review mentioned above we are conducting cyclical reviews of the criteria for the prescription of qualifications and its procedures for the prescription of qualifications.

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