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Owusu hits out at RIBA chief exec’s salary during presidential hustings

Elsie alan collage
  • 6 Comments

Presidential candidate Elsie Owusu has claimed that RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance earns six times the average architect’s salary 

Speaking at an election hustings in Leeds last night (Wednesday), she pointed out that Vallance, who is understood to be earning nearly £200,000 a year, was earning more than the prime minister (£142,500).

‘As much as I love and revere our chief executive, Allan Vallance, he earns six times what an average architect earns in practice,’ she said. ‘Good for him for valuing himself, but where is the fair pay policy?’

But rival candidate Alan Jones came to Vallance’s defence, saying: ‘There has been a review in the RIBA at board level [looking at] what salaries are paid [to CEOs] in other charities. And that has been benchmarked [against other organisations]. So it is not as high as has been suggested.’

Owusu and Jones, alongside US-based Philip Allsopp, set out their manifestos and answered questions from the audience at the event in Leeds Beckett University’s School of Art, Architecture and Design.

The candidates’ most revealing answers came when asked what they would do first on becoming president.

Owusu said: ‘I’d do the Donald Trump thing and sign the executive order about capping [membership] fees.’

She added: ‘My main thing is about changing culture and about transparency at the RIBA. And so I’d also stop meetings taking place in that chamber [at Portland Place] – it is so inaccessible.’


Belfast-based Jones said: ‘I’d ask the staff at the RIBA, if they were unshackled, what would they ideally like to do. At the minute it is like “Oh, it is not in the financial plan for next year” … and so on.

‘It really is a team effort – it is not the president signing an executive order.’

Jones added: ‘I’d invite in the directors of, for example, Zaha Hadid Architects and ask them to confirm they pay all their staff the minimum wage. I want to send out a message [to all the top practices on this subject].’

Allsopp, who is based in Arizona but will relocate to the UK for four years if elected, said he would call an all-staff and all-members meeting, adding: ‘I’d do a worldwide webinar on where I think the future for everything is. I’d also seek input to set up a global SWAT team to breathe oxygen into the profession and take our message to those who control so much of what we do.’

How do we turn the RIBA into being essential rather than being slightly optional?

Alan Jones

Asked how membership numbers could be increased, Jones said: ‘It has to be about the services provided. We need to look at the [membership] fees. There is an encouragement [in terms of pricing] to join and so on. This lasts up to about year five, then you are on full fee. After that we see a drop-off in numbers – people leave at that point.

‘Unfortunately we are about two years away from recession. So how do we turn the RIBA into being essential rather than being, one might argue, slightly optional at the minute?’


Owusu, meanwhile, elaborated on why she would temporarily freeze membership costs.‘The fee for chartered practices should be capped,’ she said. ‘The RIBA needs to try to grow [the number of] those middle-ranking practices.

‘[For practices] to find that fee out of their profits, and then to have it increased when their profits aren’t increasing, isn’t right.’

She added: ‘RIBA’s finances are straight for the first time in a long time, so fees should be capped so we could welcome more people in.’

The RIBA is a wonderful ship; we can make it go faster, be more relevant and be more responsive

Philip Allsopp

Allsopp looked at the picture beyond the UK. ‘There is an untapped area internationally which we should be going after,’ he told the audience. ‘In terms of membership growth and relevance we have a huge amount of headroom overseas – [we should] grow this global fellowship that we actually need as a profession.’   

Allsopp also spoke about adding value for clients. ‘The profession just has to be confident [about the value we deliver],’ he said. ‘We are adding more value than a lot of management consultants. We are delivering something of tangible value now and it lasts for generations.

‘And we need the RIBA behind us to provide the underpinnings of business to let that really happen.’


Asked about the reputation of the RIBA, both now and what it could become after their two-year presidency, Owusu replied: ‘It depends where in the world you are asking that question. If you are asking abroad, the RIBA’s reputation is [extremely high] – British architects can get proper VIP treatment overseas …

‘But it is not the same at home. I would like some of that respect and admiration here, and I’d work towards that. It is potentially such a superb brand.’

Abroad, the RIBA’s reputation is extremely high – but it is not the same at home. I would like some of that respect and admiration here

Elsie Owusu

Jones concurred: ‘There is a gold standard [associated with] the RIBA when considered internationally. But I agree with Elsie, it starts at home if we want to have a really strong brand.

‘There have been economic doldrums within the RIBA, but that has come to a close, one would like to think. It is about how we would use the money that we now have for maximum impact and bolster what we do.’

Allsopp said: ‘The RIBA needs to accelerate some of the actions that have already begun, in terms of transforming governance and doing more programmatically to help practitioners and to support them.

‘It is a wonderful ship; we can make it go faster, be more relevant and be more responsive to regions and around the world.’   

Two more hustings are planned: tomorrow (29 June) in Newcastle and next Monday (2 July) in London.

Voting opens on 3 July and will remain open until 5pm on 7 August. Alan Vallance and the RIBA have been contacted for comment.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • John Kellett

    Don't moan about the RIBA paying it's staff highly, campaign for architect's salary to be representative of the value we add to the built environment. Grenfell has shown that the Governments insistence of a 'free market' is allowing the unqualified to make bad decisions legally :-(
    Procurement policies MUST change. Why not adopt the successful policies of other Countries such as France and Canada by making it a legal requirement for building projects over a certain size / complexity to require an architect and allow 'differently qualified' free reign over smaller, less complex projects. Such controls were needed in the financial sector after the financial crash of the late 'noughts', the Grenfell Tower fire proves they are needed in the construction sector. THAT is what the RIBA Presidential candidates should be fighting for, not backstabbing ourselves.

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  • Chris Roche

    Is it just my imagination, or has the picture editor in compiling this article demonstrated unreasonable bias. Clearly this is an election and not a beauty contest, however each candidate should expect to be represented fairly, and objectively.

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  • This is a distraction. how on earth is RIBA salaries related to architect fees and salaries? Come on - lets try and stay focused please - ARCHITECT 1st!!

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  • Phil Parker

    This is not the main concern the RIBA president should be focussing. The main concerns are: 1. Diminished status of architects in the building process 2. Diminished status us as professionals 3. Unprofessional practices by architects - poaching work/ Zero fee bids 4. Promoting the considerable skills of large U.K. practices abroad and within the U.K. - note, this does not include small practices. 5. Attracting talented senior architects from the large U.K. design practices into the RIBA and trying to remove all the small practitioners from the RIBA boards and committees the ante, knowledge and skill sets need to be raised and unfortunately this is not easily done through a one-man band from Derby who liked to wield a bit of power and influence when he’s down at the institute on a Friday. Need the big hitter architects in at the top of the RIBA.

    Lastly, the CEOs salary is ridiculous. There’s nothing the RIBA is doing now that warrants that. Nothing. The shambles of the RIBA being unable to eject the previous holder of thIs post and the financial cost in eventually doing so is reason why the RIBA has to be cleared out of all the small meddling practitioners and get some experienced big hitters in there.

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  • E. Owusu is again on the attacking MODE. I have read the Presidential hustings.
    Now attacking the C.O. , directly attacking many members during the last few years, attacking the RIBA, in spite of her limited knowledge of how the RIBA is run etc. etc. What RIBA members want is a knowledgable and devoted RIBA President and to its members, to deal with rasing of the status of architects, fees, relationship and influence in Government and in the Construction Industrie, Quality ARCHITECTURE, etc. etc.

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  • The AJ chose in its coverage of that Hustings meeting to headline the comments about the CEO's salary which is a side issue and arose in answer to a question. Elsie Owusu is wrong to compare the CEO's salary with the average architects salary. They are as different as Apples and Pears - not comparable. As for his salary if he can sort out the financial and governance mess he inherited from his predecessor's reign he will be worth every penny we pay him. From my experience over the last decade deeply involved in the RIBA is the culture of secrecy, lack of transparency, accountantability and improper governance over that time will only be resolved by essential drastic change at the top. Return the RIBA to its members and run it as a professional institute not a charity. Members should vote for the candidate as their President who they think is best equipped to bring about that essential change. Owen Luder PP2RIBA

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