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Scottish revolt: RIAS chief Neil Baxter quits

Neil Baxter

Neil Baxter has quit as secretary and treasurer of the RIAS just days after a group of leading Scottish architects demanded a major shake-up of the organisation

A statement released by the RIAS this afternoon (17 November), said the incorporation had agreed to a request from Baxter to leave and that he would be stepping down immediately.

Baxter spent 10 years at the RIAS, leading a number of major initiatives, including the Festival of Architecture, and becoming widely known as the organisation’s spokesperson.

The RIAS said: ‘Neil will be standing down as of today and the senior management team at the RIAS will continue to deal with all matters relating to the business of the incorporation.’

Last week the RIAS came under fire from a collective of nearly 100 architects calling for an overhaul of the structure of the ‘self-satisfied’ and ‘bunkered’ RIAS and for the 101-year-old organisation to become more transparent, inclusive and accountable over its decision-making.

Writing under the banner ‘A New Chapter’, the group including Malcolm Fraser, Chris Platt and Jude Barber delivered an open letter in which they asked for details of the RIAS’s independent salaries benchmarking review, the full findings of the recent probity review and the results of the independent Governance Review into existing management practices to all be made public.

RIAS president Stewart Henderson subsequently admitted that those recent investigations had ‘identified a lack of structured governance [which needed] to be addressed with improved management organisation and accountability measures put in place’.

Even so, he insisted, that there had been ‘no attempt to cover up investigations’, saying there had been legal reasons why the information had not yet been shared in full.

However, the departure of Baxter will undoubtedly raise further questions about what is happening within the incorporation.

Alan Dunlop, architect and professor at the University of Liverpool, described Baxter’s exit as ‘deeply concerning given all that has happened in the last few weeks, particularly the call for an independent investigation into the workings of the RIAS and an end to secrecy’.

He added: ’There have been many and various rumours reported to me about the difficulties at the RIAS for several years [but] no one has felt able to come forward and speak openly on the record.

‘I hope very much that there will be open and honest discussion and that the RIAS can sort itself out for the benefit of Scottish architects.’

The AJ has contacted Baxter for comment.

A statement from A New Chapter:

‘Today’s special announcement from the RIAS confirming Neil Baxter’s resignation as secretary and treasurer raises more questions than answers. The timing of this announcement is interesting in light of previous questions raised in an Open Letter to our President of 12 September (based on information in the RIAS Summer Quarterly) regarding governance, finance, strategy and relevance.

’In the most recent RIAS Quarterly the President noted that a RIAS Governance Review Panel had conducted a strategy, which would herald a ‘clean bill of health’ for the organisation.

’Over the past few months A New Chapter has seen a surge in positive thoughts and ideas about what a progressive, 21st century organisation for architects in Scotland might look like, how it might behave and what it might do.

’We now look to our president and representatives on Council to answer our ongoing questions and now, to clarify why [Baxter] has tendered a sudden resignation.’




Readers' comments (3)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    I have to say that Neil has been a very positive influence in his work for the incorporation. Also, given its limited resources, the RIAS has been a rather better champion of architecture and architects than its larger neighbour and I think that it is a shame that Neil resigned. As an aesthete and appreciator of culture and the society that is the profession, he has been a great supporter. He may have been deluded in that orientation, but to no greater extent than the profession itself.

    I don't believe for a second that the RIAS has got it right. Indeed it could be argued that the idea of there being a leaned society furthering excellent architecture is an anachronism in this society where planners, accountants, banks and contractors decide what gets built. For the New Chapter Group to take some form of stand, in my view, is justified. But for that group to require an explanation for Neil's resignation is to show an extraordinary lack of awareness of the consequences of their own actions and statements.

    What I would say to the Merrie Band is that if you want a trade union, you should form one. If you want procurement to change, do something about it, by attacking those who make those decisions. Take positive action. You are the sine qua non, and yet you all let yourselves be subjugated because you don't act collectively. Alternatively, if you want the world to appreciate you more, learn how to be appreciated and look towards a client-centred rather than product- centred approach. If you want the RIAS to change, get in there and change it. Don't go around self-harming, by stabbing a staunch ally in the back and don't go looking for demons in the consequences of your own actions. Also, just how many of your group have been happy enough to put yourself forward for, and accept, the awards and accolades bestowed by the Incorporation, as expanded and curated by Neil?

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    I generally take no 'political' involvement in RIBA or RIAS matters; I think the subs should be increased to a level that means our Institutes can function aggressively on on our behalf. Implicit in that is that we bring in the expertise we need, and pay for it.

    I have no idea whether Neil Baxter was part of the problem or not. He has certainly raised the RIAS' profile a huge amount in the time he has been in office, and I am sure has worked tirelessly on it's behalf. All our dealings with RIAS in terms of practice services, opinion and advice has been excellent for years.

    The basic power vacuum in such inertiate institutions as RIBA and RIAS probably demands that someone has to absorb authority. If that is Mr Baxter's crime, he should be forgiven. Where was the leadership to guide the Secretary?
    Maybe this is a power struggle by people who just didn't like the recent little model house promotion.

    It was telling to note that the mailshot sent out by RIAS on Friday did not thank Neil Baxter for his service, or say anything positive at all. It merely stated that his resignation had been accepted, effective immediately. At the very least that is ungracious, and poor business practice moreover. No handover period for such a senior position? Ridiculous.

    I therefore suspect there there at least two sides to this argument.
    If it is only about how much money do you spend on marketing architects and how much do you spend on the profession of architecture (protection of title, legislation, standards, feescales, design quality, procurement by public bodies etc. etc) then its all a bit late in the day.

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  • From the reports of what has been happening, you might think that Neil Baxter is an architectural Robert Mugabe. This is ridiculous. He has made a huge contribution to Scottish architectural life, and event if there are RIAS organizational problems that need reform, that should not preclude a decent acknowledgement of his efforts.

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