The RICS needs to move out of the Middle Ages: its true role is as a club that supports and trains its members, Tony Bingham

One of the senior clerics (I think perhaps he was a bishop) at the RICS  once said to me that an utterance of mine would offend the president. He meant it; I was to lie or crawl abjectly on the ground with my face downwards. Alison Levitt QC (now HH Judge Levitt QC) in her lambasting of the senior clergy at RICS uncovered the prevalance of such a notion: to speak up about this ancient institution, to put an opinion contrary to orthodox doctrine, was considered heresy.

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She said: “There has been a significant concentration of power in the executive, particularly the CEO and chief operating officer, who became accustomed to deciding what is in the best interest of RICS. They can be oversensitive to perceived criticism and not respond well to challenge.”

Well, we all knew that, didn’t we? Step out of line and you would find yourself marched in front of “Regulation” like a peasant in the medieval church. Then, as now, there was no room for doubt. Questions  are not tolerated. It’s the deep font for you, my boy, but you can clear your name by being bound hand and foot and dropped into the font (it’s just behind reception). If you float, it is a clear indication of guilt… sink and be innocent forever.

>> RICS governance scandal: Coverage all in one place

What’s up? Truth to tell, not much. The top dogs running the RICS did something very ordinary. They buried a short-term bank borrowing of £4m somewhere in the minutes of a meeting – but it was spotted. The non-executive directors gingerly stabbed a finger at this fragment of information. The Pope and Co. didn’t respond well to the challenge, and the four trouble-makers were marched off the pitch.

Upshot? The heretics remembered that today is the 21st century, not the 13th, so  they kicked up a fuss. The RICS instigated an inquiry, and it gave the renegades a thick ear. Yet they wouldn’t stop: these blighters had the gall to recruit The Sunday Times newspaper. It’s called whistle-blowing. The RICS slammed back denials of any wrongdoing. The Sunday Times loved it. There’s no font in Fleet Street.

 

Step out of line and you would find yourself marched in front of ‘Regulation’ like a peasant in the medieval church. Then, as now, there was no room for doubt. Questions are not tolerated

When the RICS responded by instructing a leading barrister Alison Levitt QC to go fishing, she lifted stones in the bottom of the water. I suspect the institution had expected a clean sheet instead. It wasn’t. The Levitt bombshell on 9 September runs to 467 pages. The RICS top dogs have now gone, and the whistle-blowers have received a formal apology from the RICS (though I haven’t yet spotted an apology to its 140,000 members).

I confess myself saddened by this affair. Smack bang at the front of her report, Levitt expresses a view that I share: “Whilst those who provided evidence to me disagreed about a great many things, there was one subject which united them, namely the sense of pride they felt at being members of RICS.” Hear! Hear! She added: “That said, many of those who have contacted me told me that RICS has lost its way. This is echoed on social media by people who did not make direct contact with me but of whose opinions I am aware. These are not only the views of rank-and-file members, but also of those who are powerful within the industry and even members of the current governing council.”

Levitt said in essence that the particular issues she was addressing were a microcosm of other matters, and the “RICS would be well advised to listen to the concerns and to take them seriously”.

The mood is set. Noises from the “new” RICS  give a sense of taking a fresh direction. It announced a “new interim leadership” team, headed pro tem by Nick MacLean. He said: “We are committed to collaborating more closely with our members, their employers, our clients and our other stakeholders to fulfil our duty to them and to our public interest responsibilities.” I do hope he means the RICS will get rid of the font.

Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple