Open mike: QSs have little in common with estate agents yet we share the same professional body. We have to break free and form an organisation that truly represents us

I joined the profession in 1949 as an articled pupil to a small practice, and retired as a partner in BDP in 1989, continuing in consultancy work for a further seven years.

From the start, it seemed curious that my professional body was dominated by estate agents and valuers who seemed to have little in common with quantity surveying. But QS representation at all levels was healthy. QS divisional local branches provided a forum for local interchange on matters of mutual interest. There was a track through elected representatives to a QS division council and a divisional president, operating nationally from 10 Great George Street. We were served by dedicated and professional HQ staff who understood our needs. In short, we felt that we had the autonomy and independence necessary to regulate our profession without undue influence from others.

With Agenda for Change a new and unrecognisable RICS emerged. The QS profession had been marginalised, merged with other professions into one of several ’faculties’. We were now all ’surveyors’

Agenda for Change swept all this aside. QS members were effectively disenfranchised by the voting system imposed on them, and HQ refused to publish the figures. Many of us protested, to deaf ears, at the so-called consultation stage, but for a long time thought we still had a divisional council fighting our corner. But that, too, collapsed and at great expense, a new and unrecognisable RICS emerged, regional centres with paid staff replacing the local organisation that had always been provided free and willingly by practitioners. Subscriptions increased overnight by 32%. The QS profession had been marginalised, merged with other professions into one of several “faculties”. We were now all “surveyors”.

My repeated requests to several presidents that quantity surveying be recognised as a discrete profession were ignored. Gone was the old journal, always useful as a forum
for exchange: in came a glossy magazine, largely irrelevant to the interests of the individual professions.

Now, as the pigeons hover over the latest turbulence at Great George Street, are there at last grounds for hope that we might regain a body that truly represents us? There is now a window for QSs to break free from the professions that have nothing in common with the economics of construction and create a body for QSs, taking its place with the other bodies that truly reflect the professions they serve. The number of QS members suggests the right size for such a body (the size of the RICS may be one of its problems). But it may make sense for building surveyors and QSs to examine common ground. Both demand knowledge of construction technology and economics, so the two may be compatible.

If separation should not prove feasible, and the RICS has to continue as an umbrella for the current mix of professions, it must become a federation of nationally recognised separate and autonomous professions, each with its own identity, each with its democratically elected representation, from local to national levels. The RICS HQ would become an administrative servicing body to its professions, but providing a policy interchange structure for matters of common interest to all.

In the process, it would be instructive for the RICS to re-state its aims, so that we all know what a newly constituted body should be doing. It must be many years since the institution redefined all of the activities that chartered QSs were beginning to undertake and to ask if the necessary rigour in their education, training and experience is applied, thereby assuring the public that their chartered status is justified.

After retiring from BDP, I used my status as a fellow of the RICS to market services unconnected with quantity surveying, but compatible with those provided by others under their chartered status. So, how can the RICS assure the public that all of its members are properly qualified for the work they undertake?

Do we have the courage and determination to create the professional body we deserve? Will the RICS do the decent thing and hold a referendum, or an EGM to test opinion?

Malcolm Taylor is a retired quantity surveyor