Industry opinion-formers urge professional bodies to merge – or face loss of royal charter and charitable status
A group of influential figures in the construction industry have suggested that professional institutions could be stripped of their royal charters and their charitable status unless they agree to far-reaching reforms.
Peter Rogers, a director of developer Stanhope, said the institutions were “self-protective and run for mediocrity”, and he accused them of being indifferent to the need to encourage greater integration within project teams.
Rogers acknowledged that any move to strip institutions of their charters, which can be done only by the Privy Council, would be a drastic step. He said it was justified because of their inertia and the potential benefit of reform to society.
He said: “If the government wants to drive change in the industry, taking away charters would be a bloody effective way of doing it.”
Rogers’ views were endorsed by Bob White, chairman of Mace. White said: “Something has to give. In the medium to long term, the industry has to change and the institutions have to change. Either they can change voluntarily, and if so they can protect themselves, or they can have change forced on them.”
Rogers said the aim of reform would be to break down the “silo mentality” of professions by means of mergers. The logical result of this would, he said, be the formation of one Institute of the Built Environment. Its goal would be to focus on the outcomes of projects, rather than the roles of particular professions within it.
Stef Stefanou, chairman of concrete contractor John Doyle, stressed the importance of “opening the institutions’ doors” to admit members from other disciplines. He said: “Who’s to say that the guy putting the finance together for a PFI motorway is not as important as the guy designing it? Legal, financial and environmental specialists should all be able to join the Institution of Civil Engineers.”
Mark Whitby, founder of engineer Whitbybird and another member of the group calling for reform, tried unsuccessfully to promote mergers with the electrical, structural and mechanical engineers during his tenure as president of the ICE.
Rogers, White and Whitby also attacked the institutions’ charitable status on the grounds that many were large businesses. Writing in Building this week, Whitby said: “Many [institutions] have business activities that significantly exceed their member activities."