The government has told the Architects Registration Board (ARB) to find ways to reduce its spending on lawyers after it emerged that its legal costs have rocketed in recent years to almost a million pounds in 2015
The £954,000 the ARB spent on legal costs in 2015 – the latest publicly available figure – equates to 28 per cent of its total annual budget. It is 32 per cent higher than the £657,000 the ARB spent on legal charges five years earlier.
Last Thursday (March 30), housing minister Gavin Barwell announced the publication of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG’s) long-awaited review of architect regulation and the ARB, a process which began in 2014. This report contains a number of suggestions for the ARB, including having a ‘reduced and less adversarial approach to complaints’ and appointing an in-house lawyer.
‘A proportionate approach has to be taken to investigations and prosecution, balancing legal costs (ultimately borne by the profession) against the importance of retaining a public deterrent to those considering misusing the title “architect”,’ the report says.
The report recommends the ARB comprehensively reviews its complaints and disciplinary procedures and adopts a more ‘investigative’ approach to deciding a complaint with only the most serious cases referred to external lawyers.
Among other recommendations, the report also suggested a smaller ARB board with all members, including architect members, being appointed rather than elected. This was a move which the ARB had lobbied government for in 2015 (see AJ 17.02.2016).
However, the review said that the government’s triggering of Article 50 and the Brexit process meant it was not the time to look at new routes to architectural qualifications, a decision which RIBA President Jane Duncan said left her ‘bitterly disappointed’.
She said: ‘At a time when we are actively seeking to encourage skilled students from all backgrounds to enter the profession, the decision has been made to park the vital Routes to Registration review, which will mean that measures to address the clear and urgent need for wider access and greater diversity in our profession will be frustrated.’
Nabila Zulfiqar, chair of the ARB, thanked the DCLG for its report. She said: ‘We fully engaged with this in-depth review into the regulation of architects and we are very pleased that our suggestions to modernise and improve our statutory processes in the public interest have been included in the conclusions. We appreciate that some of the recommendations, in relation to the prescription of qualifications have been put on hold, pending clarity in relation to the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Board will consider and discuss the government’s findings at the earliest opportunity.’
Read the full report here.
Jack Pringle, former RIBA President
‘While it’s not a very decisive report, it seems to be inching towards the realisation that ARB’s role is really in light touch independent regulation and it could (should) back out of accreditation of qualifications and leave it to RIBA which is the world wide authority.’
Jane Duncan, RIBA President
‘We want to see the ARB as a minimalist registration body that keeps strictly within the remit and scope defined in the Architects Act 1997. This means being a registration body that actively protects the proper use of the title “Architect” and takes effective action against non-architects purporting to offer services as an architect.
’The result of the EU referendum, and the triggering of Article 50 this week, should provide further impetus for the Government and the ARB to assess where they can support UK architecture as the valuable and innovative profession that it is. It is welcome that this review has clarified that all requirements of the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive remain in force at the present time.
’The only other role for the ARB should be to work with the RIBA to assist validating and prescribing architecture courses in the UK and internationally to commonly-held standards. This role is particularly crucial in supporting the profession in the new global environment.’
I especially welcome the recommendations seeking to reduce the number of minor complaints that proceed to a full hearing
’The measures to improve the complaints handling process are broadly welcome, in particular those proposals aimed at developing a more streamlined, less adversarial and more investigative approach. I especially welcome the recommendations that seek to reduce the number of minor complaints that proceed to a full hearing, and the recommendation that external legal advice should not be needed by the ARB except in the most serious cases.’
George Oldham, former ARB board member
‘The DCLG has laboured for three years to bring forth a mouse. If this is symptomatic of our civil service, God help us in our Brexit negotiations. Perhaps now the profession will wake up to the fact that since the Fraud Act 2006 it doesn’t need the “protection” of the ARB.’
Ian Salisbury, former elected ARB board member
’The elected members go, and the board is to be made up of government appointees only. Yet although the board’s activities are held up to be for consumer benefit, the profession continues to pay for it. Since the letter of the first chair of the Board 20 years ago informing architects that the remit of the Act was not wide enough for the board’s ambitions it has been entirely due to the elected members of the board that the ARB’s activities have been moderated to the purposes of the Act. But the elected members, who have always been in a minority, have not been able to control the budget which in consequence has consistently galloped ahead of inflation.
The move to downgrade petty complaint procedures to the executive will not result in the desired outcome
‘The move to downgrade petty complaint procedures to the executive will not result in the desired outcome. For too long the board has cast itself in the role merely of consumer protection. It has always regarded its role of “supporting” the profession as being seen to be establishing and then enforcing its own primacy over the RIBA, the schools and practitioners. The loss of distinction between this misguided executive function and a (sometimes) neutral judicial capacity will result in the chief executive channelling as many complaints as possible to the executive, which will then be act as prosecutor, judge and jury.
‘My prediction is that small practitioners, as they have always done, will cling to the protection of title and hope they are not referred to the Star Chamber. Look forward however to architects in large well-established practices deciding that registration is simply not worth the bother. It is time that the RIBA changed its name to the Royal Institute of British Architecture so that ARB loses its control over the use of the RIBA practice suffix.’