Crossbench peer to carry out investigation into group’s governance
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has appointed a former senior civil servant to lead the external review into its governance and future purpose.
Michael Bichard has been named as the “outstanding candidate” of a recruitment process to lead the review, which was ordered in the wake of the findings of Alison Levitt QC’s report into a governance scandal at the institution.
He will begin work on the review immediately with a six-month timetable for completion, reporting to the RICS’ governing council. He is set to issue a call for evidence to all RICS members and other interested parties in the coming days.
Bichard was made permanent secretary of the former Department of Education and Employment in 1995 under Conservative minister Gillian Shephard and stayed in the role under David Blunkett after Labour’s 1997 election win.
Prior to this he was the chief executive of Brent council between 1980 and 1986 and Gloucestershire council between 1986 and 1990. He retired from the civil service in 2001.
In 2004, Bichard was appointed to chair a major government inquiry into the murders of two 10-year-old girls in Soham, Cambridgeshire, in 2002.
A year later, Bichard was appointed chairman of the Legal Services Commission, a non-departmental body of the Ministry of Justice, a role which he left in 2008 to become the director of the independent think tank the Institute of Government.
This role was passed to former transport minister Andrew Adonis in 2010, with Bichard being made a crossbench life peer in the House of Lords in the same year.
Building reported in October that the government had suggested four people, believed to be retired members of the civil service, to carry out the review following conversations between the RICS and the Cabinet Office.
The RICS said Bichard will set his own terms of reference for the review, which he will publish shortly, based on three objectives set by the institution’s governing council.
The objectives are to “create clarity” about the RICS’ purpose, to make proposals for the future to make the organisation a “beacon for best practice” in governance, transparency and accountability and to ensure that governance structures, culture and resources are “fit for today” and can remain relevant in the future.
A website will also be created to host all documents and relevant materials so that member can follow the progress of the inquiry.
Interim RICS governing council chair Nick Maclean said Bichard will “bring to the review his deep understanding of governance and commitment to promoting the highest values in public life”.
He added: “We could not have wished for a better independent reviewer than Lord Bichard, who has a wealth of experience, derived from a long and distinguished career in public service and as chair of leading organisations.”
Bichard said: “I am delighted to have been asked to undertake this review. I want this to be a positive, forward-looking review, advising RICS on how it can become a world-leading membership organisation again.
“I will focus on the purpose and governance structure needed to achieve that and look forward to receiving evidence from the membership and to meeting as many stakeholders as possible during my inquiry.”
The RICS had already been carrying out an internal review into its future purpose prior to the September publication of Levitt’s independent report.
The report, which had looked into the dismissal of four non-executive directors of the institution’s governing council in 2019, had recommended that the internal review be expanded into a “wide-ranging examination of purpose, governance and strategy” conducted by an external reviewer.
The existing review had come under criticism because it was being chaired by former RICS chief executive Sean Tompkins and former president Kathleen Fontana.
Both Tompkins and Fontana resigned following the publication of Levitt’s report alongside former president and governing council chair Chris Brookes and management board chair Paul Marcuse.
The report found that the four non-execs, who had protested about the suppression of a damning financial report, had been unfairly dismissed amid a “power struggle” in the top echelons of the institution.
The RICS issued public apologies to the four in September, calling their dismissals “unacceptable and indefensible”.