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Why on earth does the ARB continue to exist?

Paul Finch

The Architects Registration Board is a sorry mess and needs to be put out of its misery, says Paul Finch

In the early 1990s when I was editing a certain weekly tabloid architectural newspaper, we ran a front-page editorial, a rare occurrence. We called for deregulation of the profession and the winding-up of the Architects Registration Board.

My views haven’t changed. Protection of title is a snare and delusion. If it meant anything, then architects would be much better rewarded than they are currently. In reality, they earn less on average than surveyors, who do not enjoy that title protection. Moreover, there is a form of protection via the Fraud Act, which veteran campaigner (if I may call him that) George Oldham has been reminding us about for years. I have yet to hear any rebuttal of his case.

Nevertheless, self-important posturing by the ARB continues apace, with its pin-prick legal actions costing the best part of a million pounds in the last recorded year. This has prompted the Department for Communities and Local Government to call for change but, alas, not to put the sick dog in Hallam Street out of its misery, nor to further reform the means by which architectural qualification might take place.

The latter point is on the back-burner, according to minister-for-everything Gavin Barwell, because of Brexit negotiations. We can add this to the preposterous list of things that aren’t happening because of last year’s referendum: a wonderful new excuse for indolence.

But wait: despite the referendum’s assertion of democratic sovereignty, the government report on the future of ARB says that council members, who are currently elected, should be appointed! Since the only elected members are elected by architects themselves (who pay for ARB’s nonsense via a compulsory levy each year), Barwell is establishing a novel principle: taxation need not be accompanied by representation.

This impertinent reversal of the one saving grace about ARB, ie the sharp sting of election campaigns, is all the more shabby since the council members currently appointed are there at the behest of the Privy Council. This noxious hybrid is now going from bad to worse.

What is generally wheeled out in ARB’s defence is the notion that it ‘protects the public interest’ by prosecuting non-architects who use the title, and strikes off miscreants like the recent professional who, having committed murder, argued that he should remain on the register because his conviction had nothing to do with his professional qualification.

The ARB has been getting away with murder for many years

The fact is that the ARB has been getting away with murder itself for many years. At every opportunity it tries to fill a vacuum, real or perceived. It tries to undermine the RIBA by increasing its compulsory levy and hurting the institute’s membership prospects. It perpetually stresses its authority in matters of architectural education, even though in reality it has no knowledge or expertise in this matter, merely interfering with, or replicating what the RIBA is already doing.

What it never does is come clean about the single thing which would be truly useful to clients who have been badly served by their architect: compensation. I explain to Part 3 students, in my annual talk at The Bartlett, that the ARB cannot offer a single penny in compensation as a result of incompetent professional advice, nor can it seek damages from the architect involved. To get compensation, the client has to go to court.

Meanwhile, the incompetent architect, or the non-architect masquerading as a qualified professional, has little to fear from the registration board. Call yourself an architectural designer or an interior designer and you will be free and clear.

Why don’t we sort out this sorry mess once and for all?


Readers' comments (5)

  • I very much enjoy and appreciate protection of title. And since architects are not about to be given protection of function as in many other places in the world, then it will have to suffice.
    Finch's case is poor; he hits at the overblown ARB management, their petty legal case, the minister's foolishness. OK let's change those. But not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    The two things I would nominate to be put out of their misery are; the shambles which is the RIBA, having led the profession into the wasteland for decades, and Finch himself - too long in the tooth, no new ideas, overreaching control in both the AJ & AR, and total lack of rigour in his thought.

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  • Ad hominem abuse a sure sign of a weak argument.

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  • It is your opinions Mr Finch, not your person which I criticise.
    Mostly of which are based on lack of rigour of thought, as I said.

    And it is easy to dismiss other's opinion using such cheap phrases and a spot of latin.

    For example, it does not follow that because surveyors earn more than architects it is because they lack protection of title.

    As for protection via the Fraud Act, that would be contentious at best, and at worst ruinously expensive.

    And yes, I would agree that ARB board should have architects as members, by election from architects. The current and previous Chairs and Board members have very little experience of the business world and even less about the business of architecture.

    I would also agree that any architect who has diddled clients out of money should be struck off, permanently. But that unfortunately this is not the view of the Board, and I have have strong debates with some of them about that point.

    I do however believe that there is a sound value in protecting the public.
    Architects advise clients on the spending of huge sums of money. Most other industries which do that are highly regulated. Take lawyers for example. In fact architects should bill them selves as financial advisers and get FCA accredited, and thereby make more money.

    But, as you say, architects do not earn much money, yet you would like them to subside an ARB initiated compensation scheme. Is this the same incompetent ARB you criticise so much!

    I will not discuss education here.

    Regarding Architectural designers, many people do know there is a distinction between them and Architects. Those who don't, often find out to late, after they have lost much money through incompetence.

    So Mr. Finch, stop relying on post lunch fake-truths and belligerence, and quit now.

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  • The last paragraph says it all. No further response from me to this sort of abuse. Sad.

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  • Paul Finch looks at ARB from the outside and provides objective opinion. Those on the inside who "enjoy" protection of title should perhaps examine more closely (and more objectively) why they think they need it.

    I am an insider, and therefore subjective myself. But I am only so because I am trapped by the coercion of the statutory monopoly. Would I were free to comment with Paul's estimable disinterest!

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