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.