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It's time the RIBA stopped behaving like a snowflake on Brexit

Paul Finch

Most practices have done no preparation for Brexit because they have rightly concluded that leaving the EU will make no difference to them, says Paul Finch

Establishment bodies and individuals, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the BBC, the Bar Council, the CBI and an alphabetical list of similar sorts, have spent the past three years claiming Brexit will ruin us. The same sort of people said we would be ruined if we joined the Euro. They said we would have mass unemployment if we voted the ‘wrong way’ in the referendum. They said Boris Johnson would be unable to sign a new exit deal with the EU, or that he was deliberately avoiding do so.

The RIBA, never backward into jumping on to an ailing band-wagon, has been droning on about what a terrible disaster Brexit will be, how the UK (they mean London) can only survive as a world-class design hub if we can import better educated overseas architects to prop up practices apparently dependent on inward migration and student interns.

Portland Place seems unreflective about why practices like overseas staff so much, given the huge increase in the number of UK schools of architecture in recent years, and the apparent desire on the part of young people to join the worst-paid of the design professions. Why isn’t the education system over which it presides producing the numbers of architects we need? RIBA also seems to be coming rather late to the party with the announcement that next month, it will launch a ‘Resilience Tool Kit’, providing Brexit business guidance to members.

Oh well, better late than never, especially given new president Alan Jones’ claim that ‘Continued political and economic uncertainty has put architects in a state of limbo, making it very difficult for practices to plan for the future. It is clear the UK needs urgent clarity on Brexit, and how it will affect access to talent, the ability to trade and its impact on development.’

Add shock and horror headlines about falling workload and falling incomes and it looks as though we are in the middle of a perfect storm. ‘Looks as though’ is about right, since, as the AJ has reported, for a profession said to be in ‘limbo’ it is rather remarkable that there is no forecast that practices plan to cut staff numbers.

For a profession said to be in ‘limbo’ it is remarkable that there is no forecast that practices plan to cut staff numbers

This gives the game away: for all the huffing and puffing surrounding interminable delays in Brexit (caused by airheads in the Westminster bubble), architectural offices are actually remarkably robust, and even the barely noticeable 0.8 per cent drop in ‘salaries’ – what about director fees and owner dividends? – is scarcely evidence of a profession in any sort of crisis.

So, to quote from the AJ report: ‘The (RIBA) survey … highlighted a lack of preparation by practices for a no-deal Brexit. In September, more than half (57 per cent) of practices had done no preparation. And of these only 5 per cent intended to do any planning in future. The RIBA reported that 30 per cent of respondents had undertaken very few preparations.

Do you think that is because all these practices are idiots? I don’t. They have concluded, rightly in my view, that leaving the EU will not make very much difference to them on the basis of what we already know; that crashing out is unlikely because the Prime Minister wants a deal, and indeed has negotiated one which attracted majority support in Parliament, despite the disruptive procedures inspired by clown-politician Oliver Letwin, the genius who promoted the Poll Tax to such beneficial effect.

However the Brexit end game plays out, the sun will continue to rise and earth will continue to turn; we will continue to build homes, offices and considerably increasing numbers of hospitals and schools, not to mention infrastructure projects.

The RIBA is only just getting around to telling practices how to be resilient, so no sense of urgency there; actually it should be the other way round, with practices advising the institute on just how many staff it should be employing, given its modest turnover.

Some of the existing Portland Place team should surely be producing some authoritative advice on what new opportunities will exist in the post-Brexit environment for constructive changes – in respect of VAT and procurement rules, for example. Also what our attitude should be in respect of public projects if UK architects are excluded from competing for OJEU work, as one must assume they will be.

This would make far more sense than pretending that Portland Place knows more about running practices than practices themselves.


Readers' comments (7)

  • A lot of practices are worried. Quite a few know their clients have halted projects because they judge that most "deals", and certainly the latest, will damage their business for the foreseeable future and have decided instead to invest elsewhere.Quite a few know that their financial results are in poor shape. One report suggested that a very high proportion of all Incorporated practices were loss making last year. Construction companies know that leaving the Customs Union will place their just in time supply chains at risk.
    The reference to arguments about joining the euro was odd. Perhaps the author did not know that in fact we did not after all join because those arguing against carried the day. We all hope that the other arguments advanced in the article have been adequately fact-checked.

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  • Hear hear, once again Paul Finch hits the nail on the head,

    Paul Millar

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  • Yes, the comment about the Euro was a bit odd. It was a happy accident that we didn’t join the Euro. And an indication of how we were always semi detached members of the 5 Presidents European Union?

    Most architects are remainers which is odd, because in many areas they are open minded and think of the future. And as I write Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will vote for an election, possibly as he doesn’t want to be outflanked by the Lib Dems and SNP? And it seems turkeys do vote for Xmas!!

    Life outside the EU will be great after a year of turbulence and re examination of business models and supply chains. Free trade with the world’s 200 countries. A new tax regime without VAT at 17.5%? BSI regulations? New Building Regulations in the light of Grenfell and Climate Change? We can do this.

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  • Brexit has very clearly already caused a lot of companies to lose revenue and even to start laying off staff. You would know this if you actually worked in this industry.
    Even arch capitalists like Norman Foster have now realised how huge a financial impact Brexit will have. They employ 10-00 staff and currently don't have to sponsor any visas, Brexit will obviously have a huge financial burden when roughly 1/3 of architects in London are from the EU.
    UK architecture schools thrive on their huge international student base. Are you saying we shouldn't be employing these people when they graduate?
    The AJ really is a red top like the sun isn't it, someone really needs to fact check this nonsense

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  • It's descended into gutter journalism...we will never leave. BREMAIN Forever!

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  • The only way to prove whether or not Mr Finch's optimism that a post-Brexit UK (based either on Boris Johnson's deal or "No Deal") will see a plentiful amount of new homes, hospitals, schools and infrastructure would be for Brexit to actually happen.......

    Unfortunately it would be a very costly way for Remainers to prove a point if Mr Finch was indeed shown to be wrong and the UK economy is badly damaged as a result of Brexit. The pipeline of homes, hospitals etc that Mr Finch sees through his rose-tinted glasses would fail to materialise in this scenario.

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  • Daniel Lacey

    "rightly concludes that leaving the EU will make no difference to them", really, "rightly concluded"? The fact they haven't made any plans is because they haven't made any conclusions. Because they don't know, because no-one does.

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