- A useful 21st-century function? : concerning the merits of statutory registration.
- The Royal Institute of British Architects : concerning proposals for consultation and suggestions for reform.
- Another regime? : whether technical sufficiency, properly certified under current statutory provisions, may bring improved reassurance to the public and to building owners and developers.
- Comments on a draft Government amendment - consultation published by the Government in August 2007
- Straitened times (June 2010)
- A word among the Association of Consultant Architects (October 2010)
Although for some time there has been reported a resilience in the manufacturing and retailing sections of the UK economy, the same cannot be said of the construction industry or of those professions which both sustain it and are in turn supported by it. Short-time working and redundancies among engineers, surveyors and particularly architects remain commonplace and reflect the dramatic fall in building starts, particularly in the housing sector.
In such times it is the fittest and leanest that traditionally do best; those that can react most speedily by reducing overheads and transferring their attention to more profitable markets, perhaps overseas or by diversification into more specialised endeavours where the market is smaller but where fewer compete.
It is reassuring that the Architects Registration Board has shown itself, at least by the majority of its members and its executive, to be sensitive to this and to have responded positively to the call of the two parties in government voluntarily to reduce expenditure by a significant amount over the next three years.
Yet not all is at it seems and the Board, in the Business Plan that it approved on 23 June 2010 shows itself to be fixed, as ever, on performing functions for which it has no authority. Rightly the executive's introductory paper identifies delivery of the Architects Act as being the first of the Board's three strategic aims; but that should be recognised as the beginning and the end of its responsibility. Its espoused objectives of "supporting architects through regulation" and "protecting the consumer" are not, and cannot be, its concern. The cuts that the Board now intends to make in its expenditure are both welcome and responsible, but even with a 25% reduction in the retention fee, architects will still be paying well over 150% more than they might have expected if the retention fee had remained constant in real terms. It is suggested that only when the Board properly reverts to the administration of its statutory function, and that alone, will the retention fee once again be restored to a justifiable level.
But there are wider implications of this newly adopted Business Plan. A commentator makes some initial observations here, for the interest of those who are at present considering the future of the Board and the purpose of its permitted activities.
Records held by the British Architectural Library show that from the 1890s the motivations for promoting and opposing a registration act had been mixed. But the content of the originating act of 1931 as amended by the act of 1938 shows that the decisive issue at that time was the importance attached to giving to architects the responsibility of superintending or supervising the building works of local authorities (for housing and other projects), rather than to persons professionally qualified only as municipal or other engineers. A significant indicator for this inference is in section 1 (1) of the 1938 act. (See also the Simon Report*, HMSO 1944, reprint 1952, and a ruling of the King's Bench Divisional Court, R. v. Architects' Registration Tribunal, ex p. Jagger,  2 All E.R. 151, both mentioned in "The law relating to the architect" by E. J. Rimmer, Stevens 1952).
By the 1970s that issue had had its day, to be replaced by another which has resulted in the current legislation: the Architects Act 1997 as amended. The issue which emerged in the 1970s developed into the obligation imposed on the United Kingdom and other European governments to comply with European Union Directives concerning the designation of "competent authorities" in connection with the mutual recognition of professional qualifications in favour of equal standards across borders, in furtherance of the single market policy.
This note contributed by Robert Johnstone, who retired from the post of RIBA Legal Adviser in 1995.
* "Simon" was Sir Ernest Simon who was chairman of the Central Council for Works and Buildings set up by the Minister of Works in 1941, and E. J. Rimmer was its Secretary. The full name of its report was "The Placing and Management of Building Contracts". In the preface to his book Rimmer stated that the Council had "considered in some detail the duties of the architect and his relationship with the building owner and the other persons concerned so far as they affect the economy and efficiency with which building projects are carried out".
The editors (one of whom is a member of the ACA) have seen a lively email conversation among some of the members of the Association. It appears that views have been somewhat divided. Our contributor to the debate had this to say:
The RIBA and the ACA are of course in a bind because there is no objective argument to support the notion that protection of title is either good for architecture or good for the practitioners of architecture (in what they produce). What it does, like any coercive monopoly, is to bring financial advantage to those who are within the cartel by ensuring that price is greater than marginal cost. But to accept that position is to ignore the elephant in the office that persistently asks whether it will remain constantly feasible to mount a defence against the able and gifted unregistered?
History shows that in a capitalist economy monopolies, including legal monopolies, are transient. Those architects in favour of retention of protection of title will only succeed in the successful price discrimination which they hope it brings by being able to find clients with a willingness to pay for their services at the offered rate. The Achilles heel of the cartel is the decadence that arises within in the absence of pure competition. And this does not extend only so far as the lazy small-time architect. It extends to the schools of architecture being under no pressure from their students to provide an education that is fit for purpose; for they see no need for it.
The unknown is the velocity of change which gives every indication of being slow, particularly now that the European Commission is oozing. Objectively laissez-faire will bring its result and we should therefore not resist the next obvious step of the ARB in its last stages of corruption which will be to allow schools to self-certify their qualifications, for this will be another shift towards the collapse of the controlled profession and a rebirth of excellence.
|Architects Registration Board|
|- competence to practise|
|Professional standards - the code, etc|
|Use of title|
|Links to websites:|
|- chartered bodies|
|- historical notes|