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New ARB chair announced amid ‘shambolic’ election rules

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The ARB has announced solicitor and regulatory specialist Nabila Zulfiqar as its new chair, even though the body will have to hold another election for the position within the next four months

Zulfiqar was elected as chair – making her the first person from a black and minority ethnic background to hold the post. She replaces Peter Coe, who stepped down from the role in anticipation of his eight-year tenure as a board member coming to an end on 31 March.

But because the election was triggered by Coe stepping down, the ARB will still have to hold its annual election for the position of chair, as set out in its general rules, between 1 April and 15 July this year.

This means that, although the chair is normally elected for a one-year period, Zulfiqar can only hold the position definitively for a maximum of four months. However, she may be re-elected in the upcoming election held between the 1 April and 15 July, provided she is nominated by two of the board members and goes on to win the ballot. 

Former elected ARB board member Ian Salisbury, who agreed that the election rules amounted to ‘time wasting’, said: ‘It appears to be slightly shambolic that the rules are arranged in such a way that this can happen … I’m sure they won’t have got that procedure wrong, but to anybody that pays the annual retention fees it’s yet more evidence of the way in which the board is content to spend the retention fee of those on the register willy-nilly.’ 

Describing the process as a ‘waste of money’, he added: ‘The chief executive will have taken the view – and probably she is absolutely right – that this is what has to be done in order to satisfy the procedure. They won’t be voluntarily running up the expenditure.’

Zulfiqar, a lay board member of the ARB since 2013, is a solicitor and chief adjudicator at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulator of legal services in England and Wales. She was previously a council solicitor at the General Teaching Council for England, advising on legal matters. 

In addition to her role at the ARB, Zulfiqar is a national chair of the anti-discrimination panel for the Football Association and was recently appointed to the Independent Press Standards Organisation readers panel. 

‘It is a very interesting time to be involved in the work of the regulator of architects,’ Zulfiqar said, ‘and I will be drawing on the skills and experience of my colleagues as we await the outcome of the government’s periodic review. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the previous chair, Peter Coe, whose insight and positive manner have been of great benefit to ARB over the duration of his eight year tenure.’

A spokesperson from the ARB said the issue of having two elections for chair in quick succession was discussed at a board meeting in November.

She said: ’Having considered the priorities of the organisation, including the smooth transition of the position of chair and the forthcoming changes in board membership in April, the then chair recommended that the board agree this option for deciding on his successor.

’This option had the benefit of allowing the new board members, in this case three new lay board members who are due to commence their appointment on 1 April 2017, time to make an informed contribution to who the chair of the board should be.’

Zulfiqar’s application was supported by fellow board members Alex Wright and Neil Watts. She was elected following a ballot at the end of last week, in which all board members voted.

Karen Holmes, registrar and chief executive of ARB, said: ’Nabila’s extensive experience of regulation as well as her time working as a lay board member mean that she is very well placed to take on this role. She is committed to effective regulation in the public interest and is well respected by the board and all those who work for ARB.’

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