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RIBA at war with Owusu: institute tries to gag presidential candidate

Elsie owusu credit nana humphrey barclay crop
  • 18 Comments

The RIBA has sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to presidential candidate Elsie Owusu intended to prevent her making ’damaging public statements’ about the institute

The letter to Owusu – one of three contenders vying to become president alongside Phil Allsopp and Alan Jones – came after she publicly criticised the salary of RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance at a husting in Leeds last week. It has also emerged that the institute had recently reported Owusu to the Charity Commission, the charity regulator, over potentially reputation-damaging statements made by Owusu in the media in April.

According to the institute’s latest letter, Owusu’s claim that Vallance was being paid six times the average architect’s salary amounted to ‘a flagrant breach of confidentiality, [was] unsubstantiated and [was] damaging to RIBA’.

It is known that Vallance is paid at least £180,000 a year (see AJ 20.09.16).

In the letter from the RIBA’s honorary secretary Kerr Robertson dated 29 June, the institute cites other instances where it feels Owusu’s ‘serious and repeated’ criticism has affected the RIBA’s ’reputation and standing’.

These include an article in The Times on 17 April, in which she claimed the RIBA was ‘institutionally racist’, and other press leaks which the organisation said it had ‘cause to believe’ Owusu had been involved in.

The letter, which Owusu has posted on Twitter, states that the architect had breached campaign and hustings guidelines and goes on to say: ‘These public statements are very damaging to RIBA’s reputation. This is all the more serious as you are a trustee of RIBA, owing fiduciary duty of care to the organisation whose interests you are expected to preserve and promote.

‘As Honorary Secretary, it is my role to preserve the governance and charitable function of RIBA. Your recent media activity is promoting your personal interests, running for Presidency of the RIBA, over and in breach of the duty of care and fiduciary standards of service you owe the organisation.’

The AJ has also discovered that Owusu had already been reported by the RIBA to the Charity Commission over her media statements about ’institutional racism’.  

A spokesperson for the commission said: ’We can confirm that the RIBA has submitted a serious incident report to the commission relating to concerns of potential reputational damage to the charity. We are currently assessing information provided to establish whether regulatory action will be required.’

Explaining its decision to contact the Charity Commission, an RIBA spokesperson said: ’As a charity, the RIBA is required to report any serious incident to the Charity Commission. As defined by the commission, a serious incident includes significant risks to a charity’s reputation.

’Trustees hold the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the charity makes a report, and does so in a timely manner. RIBA trustees provided a report to the Charity Commission in April 2018, outlining the reputational risks of unsubstantiated and misleading comments published in media coverage. The RIBA responded to the media coverage, correcting inaccuracies.

‘We will not be commenting on this matter further.’

Setting out the reasons why the institute sent its ’cease and desist’ letter to Owusu last week, a spokesperson said: ’This is not ‘gagging’, it is standard charity governance and a requirement of the regulator.

This is not ‘gagging’, it is standard charity governance

’As outlined by the Charity Commission, trustees - RIBA Council members - have a duty to act in the best interests of the charity at all times, working collegiately with other trustees and the chief executive. Should a trustee be seen to act in a manner that is not in the best interests of the organisation, or put their own personal interests above of or in breach of their role as trustee, fellow trustees are required to address this. The presidential candidates were advised at the start of the election that they are required to conduct themselves in accordance with requirements of trustees for the duration of the campaign.

They added: ’The RIBA promotes and welcomes debate among members. Our presidential hustings event this evening will be live-streamed and we encourage members to attend or watch on YouTube.’

Owusu has been approached for comment.

The final hustings will take place tonight (2 July) at 76 Portland Place. London.

Comment by former RIBA president Jack Pringle

While I don’t care for Owusu’s campaigning about Vallance’s salary I do deplore the gagging measures I hear of from the RIBA against Owusu.

Free speech is not always palatable but is to be defended.

More pertinently, current presidential candidates might consider whether the RIBA’s past officers and elected members have questions to answer about their financial stewardship of the Institute. When I left office 10 years ago we had a first-class Conran-designed restaurant for members and their guests – and millions in the bank. Now, it seems, we have a financial crisis so large we have to sell off some of the ‘family silver’; there is a desultory café for members and their guests and a rather smart canteen exclusively for staff.

  

 

  • 18 Comments

Readers' comments (18)

  • This might just get the turn out above 25% which would be a start, if a little irrelevant to the challenges the RIBA faces.

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  • I was at the husting in Leeds, were you? When Architects' income was discussed, Elsie was simply highlighting the difference between an architect's income and that of other professions - Elsie very reasonbly cited an example close to home, the income info I think based on an AJ article not disclosure and in no way was an attack.

    That this has been blown up into a gagging order is beyond anything a professional would recognise as reasonable. What is worse is that some very vaulable points are missed here:-

    Consider for one moment that the CEO if the RIBA was an architect - that would be valuing ourselves !!

    Elsie spoke very eloquently earlier in the day in Manchester about practical ways to end mental health stigma and helped debate a concensus about prevention such as collaborative ways of working starting in our schools of Architecture.

    Elsie's hustings presentation centred on the need for more diverse types of practice particularly medium sizes practices contrary to to the increasingly polarised demographic of very arge and very small practices driven by insurance costs and procurement structures.

    The best question of the Leeds hustings came from a student who suggested asked if we should cut out the middle man - take our professionalism to the banks and be our own developers. But because of this massive red herring you are missing the vital content of this critical debate.

    No one is openly discussing the serious asysmetry in our economy, its effects on the demographic and distribution of our work. Things that matter to us in the North.

    Finally, all the presidential candidates are excellent and a credit to our profession - judge this for yourselves first hand and ask them difficult questions for yourselves rather than being hysterical. I've had the opportunity to meet Elsie personally three times now and make my own assessment. There is briefing against Elsie which I have witnessed first hand. The distortion between what Elsie says which again, I hear first hand and albiet challenging - the reaction is simply not warrented.

    Mx Danni Kerr

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  • This is calling to mind Harry 'they call us reeba' Rich. Where is the geezer now? Nice?

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  • This is calling to mind Harry 'they call us reeba' Rich. Where is the geezer now? Nice?

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  • RIBA is a charity paid for and run by members. I find It rather outrageous that a cease and desist letter can be given to a trustee who's actual role is to support the members who voted them in. If they are running for president and see problems who can tell them to shut up and keep them secret ? It is not a secret society that gives eachother favours... Or atelast should not be If there are problems in RIBA it should be known by the paying members who allow it to exist.

    As a student who ran for the council I can say that in a meeting regarding council before election day we were told to follow the line of majority and do as we were told if we got in. This by a high ranking person within. I for one have the principal that if you get elected you act for the members who voted you in , not for the benefit of the board.

    RIBA has some very serious financial problems and with such attitudes it does make you wonder where the money disappears too.....

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  • Also forgot to mention the NDA letters which from what I know are still given to everyone after a meeting so they can't say a word to their members. Elsie Owusu is someone with integrity who wants a RIBA that serves everyone who practices architecture. Not a privileged circle who share favours. She is trying her best to cause change, it is evident the people inside Portland place are getting a bit twitchy. But history is on Elsie's side.

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  • The spat between Kate Macintosh and Presidential candidate Elsie Owusu is sad and only explicable if Owusu is too young to know about Kate’s long history of battling against social injustice. One would have expected them to be natural allies but Owusu’s outrageous suggestion that the RIBA is “Institutionally Racist and Sexist” is to dismiss the changes in attitudes and policies at Portland Place that Kate has contributed to over her long professional career. Now in her eighties she continues to pursue these causes with unabated commitment and enthusiasm. As a prominent campaigner against Apartheid, leading to the RIBA withdrawing recognition of the South African Schools, and herself having non-white Caribbean members of her close family, Kate is well qualified to recognise institutionalised racism.
    While prejudice still exists widely in society and there is no reason for complacency the Profession and more significantly the RIBA demonstrate admirably liberal views.
    David Chipperfield’s identification of the Institute’s weak response to the disastrous consequences of leaving the EU is a more relevant and critical platform for a Presidential campaign.

    Bob Giles

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  • Well said Bob. Kate Macintosh is the best of the best, a constant campaigner against injustice, a shining light for women in architecture, and a damn good architect!

    Jack Pringle

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