Paul Morrell and Richard Steer question independence of initiative

The UK’s former chief construction advisor has called the decision of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to ask its own bosses to chair a review into its future purpose a “disaster”, adding the organisation’s leadership should leave their posts.

Paul Morrell said the appointment of RICS president Kathleen Fontana and chief executive Sean Tompkins to chair its ‘Defining Our Future’ review, which was prompted by a member backlash against a governance scandal, was a “pathetic” attempt to “keep a lid on things”.

Sean Tompkins headshot

RICS chief executive Sean Tompkins is co-chairing the review along with its president Kathleen Fontana

And Richard Steer, who has been Gleeds chairman for more than half of his 40 years at the business, was also critical of the move, telling Building it was “a bit like marking your own homework”.

Morrell, who was the government’s first chief construction adviser between 2009 and 2012, told Building it was “difficult to feel motivated to respond to any inquiry that does not start out with a very real possibility that those who have presided over the Institution’s current predicament should go – as I think they should”.

The review into the future purpose of RICS, which went live earlier this month, was launched after the organisation’s botched handling of a damning financial report by accountant BDO led to a backlash from members.

It came after it emerged in December last year that four non-executive directors had been dismissed from RICS’ governing council in 2019 after raising concerns about why the report had not been shared.

After weeks of mounting pressure from members to explain why the non-execs had been ousted, the RICS’ leadership announced it was launching an independent review into the matter, adding it would undertake a “comprehensive” review into its “ongoing purpose and relevance”.

But while it has appointed barrister Peter Oldham QC to conduct the review into the handling of the financial report, it said last month it had appointed its own bosses to lead the future purpose review.

Morrell, a former senior partner at Davis Langdon and international chairman of the firm, said he had “no faith” in the future purpose review under the organisation’s current leadership and said the appointment of Fontana and Tompkins to chair it was “predictable”.

He added: “The Institution is free to contemplate its own navel as often as it wants….If, however, this is a reaction to the high level of unrest amongst the membership about the strategic direction and competent management of the organisation, then it is further demonstration of the crass insensitivity that got it into trouble in the first place.

“The review that is required demands a degree of independence from those who have most recently been setting the strategic direction and managing the organisation.”

Last month he called the organisation’s current leadership “arrogant and naive” over its handling of the financial report and said that breaking up the institution was “one solution” to making it operate more effectively.

Steer also wondered whether it was a mistake for the RICS management to be put in charge of the initiative.

He said: “At first sight, the news of [the] senior management team at the RICS being positioned to ‘lead’ the internal review of the organisation seems somewhat out of step with the requirements articulated by the membership.

“It is clear there is a need for change, if nothing else to restore the credibility of the Institution. It is up to the review to establish how the organisation can move forward.”

He added that although the senior leadership team could add value to the review and should have some involvement, “to be seen as managing the review is a bit like marking your own homework. It will do nothing to restore faith in the way the RICS is being managed.”

The 10-page report by BDO gave the 153-year-old institution the lowest possible “no assurance” rating for its treasury controls and warned that it was at risk of “unidentified fraud, misappropriation of funds and misreporting of financial performance”.

RICS chair of its UK and Ireland world regional board Simon Prichard said that the furore among members over the last few months was a “good sign”.

Prichard, who is also a senior partner at Gerald Eve, added: “There is a lot of noise and emotion currently surrounding events at the RICS and certainly some strong opinions about the new Defining our Future review.

“I think it’s actually a good sign because it says to me that it matters to members and that being the case, we have an opportunity now to engage and shape the future of the profession.

“RICS boards like the one I chair, and RICS Governing Council, are made up of experienced surveying professionals with a real stake in the future strategic direction of our Institution.

”It saddens me to hear members say they might consider not renewing their membership, or are writing off this exercise when it’s only just been launched because if you want to affect change for the future you have to take a seat at table and get engaged.”

Members have until 9 April to tell the RICS how they want it to change.

Tell us how you think RICS should change to benefit its UK membership by emailing the news team at