The RICS has to sort out the mess it’s made, or rumours of a breakaway group are bound to resurface
It’s that time of year again and at the moment it seems it’s not only the turkeys that are getting stuffed. The RICS has got itself into an unnecessary debacle over a whole yuletide spread of issues ranging from member representation, to its rumoured resignation from the Construction Industry Council. To top off the seasonal cheer, many members are unsettled by the idea of granting chartered status for QSs without degrees. These wounds are self-inflicted, unhelpful and need to be healed quickly.
Like most practices, we hand over a large cheque to the organisation every year which covers the subscription fees for our staff and in recent times it has become increasingly eye-watering. The past three years of fees has approached £1m and if you put the contributions of all the practices operating in the consultancy top 10 together, I estimate it would be near to £15m over the same period. At one time there was even a debate about whether the “majors” should throw these fees into a pot, sever their ties with the RICS and start their own form of QS representation. There are some rumblings that this may reappear on the agenda if matters are left to fester over the festive period.
Someone once told me that the role of the RICS was simple – it had to deliver just three things for the average QS member. It was all about “recognition”, “recognition” and more “recognition”. While I do not belittle the importance of the RICS being a member of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) or the internal processes that are dominating the debate at present, I sense that for the average practitioner who may have been out of work since last Christmas these domestic wranglings are far removed from their day-to-day existence. Down at Jobcentre Plus they are not too concerned about your reduced-fee RICS membership or whether or not the body has more power to influence government.
It is not the fault of the RICS that we have been suffering the worst recession since the thirties, or that unemployment has risen from 1.6 million in 2007 to the current 2.5 million. However, it has always been a body that seems more obsessed with the size of its membership than the quality of its representation. If you talk to those running the RICS, it is the headline-grabbing
housing market and this section of their membership that they argue gets them on the Ten O’Clock News. Unfortunately for the 30,000 QSs who may be paying the full £450 subscription, this kind of profile does not argue their case when times are hard.
This recession has hit everyone but, numerically speaking, the architecture and QS professions have suffered more than almost anyone else. The RIBA has a licence system for architects: no licence, no job. Even nurses are going to demand degree-level entry from 2013. But for the RICS it is business as usual and they oppose the implementation of degree-only entry to chartered status. There are great numbers of qualified members of the RICS who have no degrees and undertake a valued role, but in a changing world of global competition, this is an example of a body not being in synch with the real world.
But what is the alternative? Although the larger consultancies have discussed setting up their own representative body, I see no appetite for this at the moment. We are all too busy trying to run our own organisations in a cut-throat commercial environment. What if we asked the secretary of state to intervene? I sense we would soon find ourselves fobbed off with another quango and a new tsar of dubious value, tarnished by association with a failed government. The RICS has heritage and value even if it has been perceived to have temporarily lost its way. It has actively promoted the profession in emerging markets like China and India with some success, it has strengthened the qualification with the recent publication of the New Rules of Measurement and it is beginning to understand the strength of feeling provoked by the current debacle. In my view, it will not leave the CIC.
So for Christmas it should give its qualified members some form of differentiation, in the same way that architects are licensed. This will need primary legislation, and with a hung parliament or a new government with a wafer-thin majority both possibilities, next year could be a good time to lobby. The RICS should cull the large number of membership classifications, end its fixation with how many members it has, and decide who it really represents. Strength comes through quality not quantity. Finally, it must accept that perceived arrogance is unhelpful. A little Christmas contrition would not hurt.
Richard Steer is senior partner at Gleeds.
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