First, let me do a Tony Bingham and tell you a tale of foreign parts before returning to the main issues. I was tramping the streets of a strange town, looking to rent a detached house from a recommended agency. It was a superb summer's day and I could have murdered a pint. Only trouble was, it was downtown Riyadh. Anyhow, I found an agency called Mahaba Real Estates Inc, and introduced myself to the main man – a Bedouin dressed in brown from head to foot and wearing heavy black glasses. I proudly presented him with my business card – complete with FRICS, ACIArb. The estate agent took off his dark glasses and, with his good eye – he only had the one – scrutinised my card. After a long pause he asked: "And what is frics?", he said, pronouncing it to rhyme with bricks.
I almost told him that "frics" is French slang for cash, and that this was quite appropriate, my being a chartered quantity surveyor. But then I thought better of it. Several cups of sweet black tea later we did the deal – with 5% discount for "French frics". So, what price globalisation? How is the RICS to bridge historic, cultural and ethnic divides where many before have tried and failed? Try by all means, like well-meaning missionaries, who ended up being cooked alive, but please don't end up on the local dinner menu after I have paid your air fare. Meanwhile back home, what has happened since the well-intentioned Agenda for Change swept away the traditional skills-based divisions and replaced them with business-related faculties? The sad truth is that at grassroots level it hasn't worked, and instead of being a creaky bottom-up organisation, based on local branch meetings, the RICS has become top-down and seemingly unaccountable to the fee-paying membership.
Even the RICS staff are unable to explain how the faculties relate to the executive when it comes to representing members' interests.
Ask for an "organogram", and after explaining that it is like a family tree that shows the committee reporting structure, you draw an apologetic blank. Ask for a schools information pack, and the literature across the various faculties is disparate and dire. And there's no video.
More importantly, we now read by emailed news bulletins that the RICS has advised the government on this and that, and has had so many radio or television slots, and so on. All excellent PR, but how can the RICS presume to advise anybody if it is not empowered to do so by the collective voice of the membership? Where are the special interest twice-yearly conferences? What does the Royal Charter and the Privy Council actually allow us to do? How many large firms have the words "chartered surveyors" in their strap line any more? Why do we need a network of limited companies? Is not the concept of a limited company incompatible with that of a professional institution?
So, forget globalisation; the priority must be to refocus on our structure and administration at home – making the RICS a modern members-first and open door professional organisation, bridging public interest issues and commercial business practices alike.
A raft of motions that we intend to put to the RICS has now been prepared; it has the deliberately catchy but building surveyor-relevant heading of "Stop the Rot". These are being circulated to sound out support for an extraordinary general meeting in the autumn – at least 860 signatories are required for it to go ahead. We are a broad church and any member may have a copy.
The motions will be put forward on the basis of policy directions – "the membership requires the governing council to …" – leaving the general council to amend the charter, by-laws and regulations as appropriate. For example, senior staff salaries might be capped as a multiplier of the full membership fee, with key performance indicator bonuses geared to increases in membership numbers.
The bottom line, however, is that with recent and future resignations, the net result of raising subscriptions could largely be self-cancelling. An autumn meeting reversing the increase in subscriptions might just rescue the RICS from having pressed the self-destruct button.
The above are the personal views of the author, who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.