The AJ has uncovered how much the RIBA pays its president – a role many in the profession believed was unsalaried
The 66 Portland Place-based organisation has admitted that the institute’s president can expect to receive up to £60,000 a year, although the final sum is means tested depending on the income of whoever is elected.
The revelations will come as news to a large proportion of members who thought the position was unpaid.
Indeed the Evening Standard reported this misconception as fact last month, with presidential candidate Elsie Owusu adding that it was ‘designed for somebody who has a private income, is in a practice that can afford to shelter them for the four years, and has no other responsibilities’.
But the AJ has been told that payment – effectively an honorarium to reflect the ‘significant time contribution [presidents] make on behalf of the RIBA’ – was first made three years ago when Jane Duncan took over from Stephen Hodder.
Northern Irish academic and architect Alan Jones, who beat Owusu and American-based candidate Phil Allsopp in this year’s hotly contested presidential race, will only start receiving his income when he takes over from current incumbent, and chair of HTA Design, Ben Derbyshire in September 2019.
An RIBA spokesperson said: ‘The decision to introduce an honorarium was made by RIBA Council following a member consultation and came into effect in 2015.
‘The value of the honorarium depends on the individual circumstances of the candidate and involves a process including benchmarking in the not-for-profit sector. This honorarium is included in our annual report.’
The institute added that the sum of £60,000 had been agreed by the Charity Commission. The first person to receive the annual remuneration was Jane Duncan, who still runs her own practice Jane Duncan Architects and Interiors in Buckinghamshire, and who took up her position in 2015.
The idea of salary for the president had been mooted several times in the past, including in 2012 by then-president Angela Brady, who called for a salary of up to £50,000 to attract the best candidates and avoid uncontested elections.
In 2013 a working group chaired by former president Sunand Prasad, who held the position between 2007 and 2009, suggested the institute’s figurehead role came with an annual income of £45,000 per year.
Commenting on the news, he told the AJ: ’The principle is about greater access. Without some recompense for what has become de facto a full-time job, an architect who is not funded by their firm or other means, could not afford to serve as president.’
Prasad added that he thought the sum of £60,000 a year was ‘about right’.
However. former RIBA president (2005–2007) Jack Pringle, disagreed that the role should receive any remunerated at all.
‘Presidents should only be paid in exceptional circumstances,’ he said. ‘Perhaps if an academic or public servant has to go part-time and lose salary to do the role. Otherwise we should expect presidents to be people at the top of their game, be able to afford the time and of course benefit from the personal branding and publicity.
While the president is an elected member, the institute’s chief executive, currently Alan Vallance, is a salaried staff member and is understood to be on around £200,000.
Owen Luder, past president 1981–1983 and 1995–1997
The issue of a pay for the president is an old one. Along with whether two years is too short or too long.
There is no question that two years as president … to do the job properly, involves a lot of time … at the most, probably 80 per cent of your time. Life becomes a juggle between the pressures of being a president and earning your living.
In the past, you couldn’t afford to be president unless you had either a large profitable practice for financial support or substantial other income. In my case, in my first presidency in 1981, it was no problem.
I had my large, very profitable practice paying my regular salary, although I was not there for a large part of normal working time. I kept control of my practice by being there very late on many days.
By the time of my second presidency in 1995, I had withdrawn from my practice and was operating as a consultant. That role as consultant was hit by being president, but by that time I had a very substantial investment and pension income so it wasn’t a problem either.
This cost of being president is clearly not bearable unless you either have a large practice or other income to support you which rules out almost certainly standing for the top office. That rules out not just young architects but also a lot of older experienced members who would possibly make good presidents.
I supported a modest honorarium when it was proposed, though I believed it should not be so high as to encourage members to run just in the hope of winning an attractive regular payment. The main reason to be president is to serve the profession of which you are a part.
So the level of the honorarium should, rightly, be agreed after being elected and based on the need of the individual. A president with a large practice does not need one; a principal of a small or mid-sized practice should have an honorarium geared as compensation for the cost to the practice – a basic £15,000 at the lowest and £60,000 probably the highest.