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RIAS council member: ‘Now is the time for change’

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Exasperated RIAS council member Stephen Miles says the troubled incorporation needs wholesale reform

The RIAS has become a complex, and largely ineffective body, struggling to embrace modernity and change.

I should know. I’ve been a council member and trustee for more than five years, starting in my capacity as vice-president of the Glasgow chapter, and latterly as a nationally elected member.

For many years the incorporation has been largely presided over by a small collection of individuals, holding significant control and power for the behaviour and direction of the organisation. As such, engaging meaningfully was challenging at times.

This, however, is not an uncommon problem and one that perhaps resonates with boardroom culture across many small and large organisations – outdated but at least functioning in some capacity. It is therefore all the more startling to have been party to the unfolding events of the past year – internal issues which have not been fully explained beyond the walls of the incorporation.

The RIAS has malfunctioned. A recently published RIAS communication, ‘Future Directions’, intimated that there are systemic problems now bubbling to the surface.

This latest bulletin outlined a series of current issues, most notably around investigation by both OSCR and Police Scotland. It also referred to ‘legally protected’ documents and ‘non-disclosure agreements’, problems which do not paint the RIAS in a good light.

In addition, we have recently seen progressive voices such as Rosalie Menon feeling they had no alternative but to resign.

I also wrestled with similar feelings, having had my own professionalism called into questions by peers on multiple occasions.

The recent RIAS statement also names Kerr Robertson as the antagonist in this sorry story and instigator of both the police and OSCR probes.

However, in my opinion, Robertson, with others, has acted in a manner above reproach, and together they have been unwavering in their sense of duty to the RIAS, suffering significant relationship damages in the process. This is to be commended, and they all have my full support.

I have recently volunteered to join the newly established governance committee, which I hoped would serve as an opportunity to be part of the much-needed reform, and to drive forward an organisation that was based in modernity, and a progressive approach with the profession at its core.

So it was disappointing and surprising that the anonymously scribed ‘Future Directions’ bulletin was not vetted nor approved by the newly established Governance committee or indeed the wider council trustees – perhaps ironic, given the timing of the inaugural meeting of the governance committee today (Thursday, 8 February).

These behaviours fall short of what we expect from our professional body, and we must ensure that we seize the opportunity to rebuild both the reputation, and the trust in the organisation.

In doing so we must seek to create true transparency and engage with our membership whom we have been elected to represent.

At the last meeting of the trustees, we welcomed the lobby of A New Chapter as a growing voice of disenfranchised architects in Scotland who are demanding change and requested that we ‘open our doors’ and seek to use this opportunity to begin a journey of reformation based upon a collaborative, transparent, honest and progressive agenda that had working architects and members at its core.

We must not allow apathy or ignorance to prevail

This was met with incredulity among the establishment within the RIAS.

Now is the time for change. Despite the challenges that lay ahead, we must not allow apathy or ignorance to prevail, and must seek to underpin the foundations within the RIAS. It isn’t going to happen overnight – however it’s crucial to let our members, and the wider architectural community know that there are growing numbers of voices, both on council and supporting council that will not stand for the status quo.

And while it may take time, these individuals and groups of people are committed to ensure that change is delivered.

As a nationally elected member of the RIAS, I would welcome and encourage any members with concern to get in touch, and where possible we will ensure that these concerns are raised within the council chambers.

Stephen Miles is a director at ADP Architecture and an RIAS nationally elected council member and trustee

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