Open mike - Never agree to a bad plan in the hope that things will turn out for the best. Martin Bishop did, and now the RICS is more fragmented than it’s ever been

I have just read Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen’s Diary of a Man in Despair. Here was a man who lived through all the changes that so threatened Germany in the thirties, writing lucidly about the events as they happened, predicting the inevitability of disaster ahead. But nobody listened.

A few years ago, after nearly 40 years as a surveyor, many spent as a partner in one of the country’s largest and most successful project management and quantity surveying consultancies, I largely retired to pursue my other interests. During my time I was fortunate to sit on the general council of the RICS at the time of Agenda for Change. I had clear views of where I thought we ought to be going, which were quite different from the direction we eventually took. Nevertheless, I bowed to the inevitable because, as I wrote to the RICS president at the time: “At very least the new proposals break the existing paradigm. No change process is managed all in one go and I see this simply as the first stage in a long process.”

How I regret those words.

At the time I believed that by doing what we were doing, in the way we were doing it, we were embarking on a march of folly. I was appalled that in this whole process we had not even bothered to talk to our customers about how they perceived us and what they expected from us. Had we done so, armed with this knowledge, we would have been able to develop processes and structures that ensured that our clients’ expectations were met and in so doing that we were both valued and relevant. Some wanted to do just that and believed we should reduce our divisions to just three: land, property and construction.

Instead, as part of a so-called process of simplification, incredibly we doubled the fragmentation of an already fragmented profession: eight divisions became 16 faculties. For me it simply beggared belief. If the RICS continues on this path, I argued, maybe sooner rather than later we will simply become an irrelevance, like the medieval guilds that, despite losing virtually all their power in the 1830s, still manage to exist with no real purpose other than as charities or as gentlemen’s dining clubs.

All my worst fears and predictions have been realised. The word ‘surveyor’ has become utterly meaningless.

After having spent some time away a couple of years ago, I was asked if I would sit on the board of a new engineering and quantity surveying practice working principally in the international oil industry. All the directors are chartered surveyors. So I felt that it would be appropriate to register the firm with the RICS. I entered the registration website and was presented with an online registration form.

I was asked to select the designation of the new company and a list dropped down which sent me spinning back to the heady days of Agenda for Change. I was, unbelievably, presented with a bewildering array of 19 designations to choose from.

All my worst fears and predictions of what the faculties would become had been realised. Is this really what Agenda for Change was all about? The word “surveyor” has become utterly meaningless. The faculties should never have become outward official designations but should simply have been centres of excellence within the overall profession.

Curiously, despite all this confusion, the phrase “chartered surveyor” means something and has entered the language as a standalone phrase in its own right, like “chartered accountant” – the two words are inextricably linked. In the case of chartered accountants I think we are all pretty clear about what they do and what they stand for. This is simply not the case with chartered surveyor.

The truth is that we, as chartered surveyors, do all form one profession. We are all part of the process of surveying, developing and managing the natural and built environment. Let’s lose all these designations and simply market ourselves as “Chartered Surveyors: the Land, Property & Construction Profession – Worldwide”.