External review into the institution’s future purpose also set to start within weeks

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has issued a grovelling public apology to four former members of its governing council who were unfairly dismissed after they spoke up about the suppression of a critical financial report.

The institution said the treatment of the non-executive directors by senior executives and others was “unacceptable and indefensible”.

In a series of statements issued today, it added that the organisation was now “keenly aware that [the] RICS is at a cultural crossroads”.

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The RICS said the treatment of the four fired non-executive directors was ‘indefensible’

The institution also said it will start an independent review into its governance and purpose within weeks and would hire external advisors to shake-up its reward systems for senior executives.

It follows a series of high-profile resignations in the wake of the findings of an independent review into the scandal.

Amarjit Atkar, Bruce McAra, Simon Hardwick and Steve Williams were all ousted in November 2019 after they refused to accept the findings of an internal review into the handling of the financial report by accountant BDO into the RICS’ treasury management function.

Also read > RICS reforms: what changes do members want after bombshell report?

Also read > Independent review into the RICS scandal: key findings

The report, which had given the RICS the lowest possible “no assurance” rating for its treasury controls, had been withheld from governing council members for more than seven months.

Speaking on behalf of the RICS, acting governing council chair Nick Maclean said that the non-execs had been “right to challenge the refusal” to share the report.

It is the first time the apologies, which were made privately to the four non-execs immediately before the publication of the independent review, have been shared publicly.

The review, carried out by Alison Levitt QC, was published unredacted earlier this month.

Its findings have resulted in the resignations of chief executive Sean Tompkins, president Kathleen Fontana, former president and governing council chair Chris Brookes and management board chair Paul Marcuse.

The RICS has also issued an “unreserved” apology to other members of the RICS’ governing council who had been threatened with legal action for defamation in January.

Maclean said the threats had been “unacceptable and inexcusable”. He also apologised to members of the council who had raised concerns about governance yet were “not sufficiently listened to”.

The statement added that the RICS was organising the reimbursement of fees incurred by governing council members in obtaining legal advice following the threats.

It also updated the RICS’ 130,000 members on the progress in implementing Levitt’s 18 recommendations, which included transferring an ongoing review into the institution’s future purpose to an external reviewer.

The RICS said it was working with public services consultant Gatenby Sanderson to identify the “best possible” candidate to carry out the review, which is set to start by the end of November.

Another review into the organisation’s reward structures for senior executives will be undertaken by external advisors, it added.

It follows a backlash among members over a £260,000 bonus awarded to Tompkins earlier this year.

The RICS confirmed earlier this month that, following Levitt’s report findings, Tompkins would no longer be paid a £190,000 sum from the bonus he had been due to receive next year. He was paid an initial £74,000 in January.

Plans for a new whistleblowing process are also being drawn up with Prospect, a charity which supports employees and businesses in raising work concerns.

The RICS said that a member of the governing council will have “ultimate responsibility” for overseeing any whistleblowing, although all investigations would be carried out by a third party while an annual report benchmarking the process against similar organisations will be published.

Today’s statements also added that “no new instructions” will be given to the RICS’ legal advisors Fieldfisher.

A new framework will be drawn up to procure new legal advisors with a tender process set to begin in January next year, according to the statements.

Fieldfisher had failed to provide key evidence to Levitt until six months into her investigation.

Levitt said the last-minute disclosure of the 436 documents “completely changed” her report – which she had already started writing – providing clear evidence that the RICS’ senior leadership had been trying to find a way to oust the non-execs for months before their dismissal.

The evidence, which Levitt described as the most significant documentation she had seen as part of the investigation, made it necessary for her to ask for new written statements from all relevant witnesses.

Her final report also found that the firm had taken a “partisan approach” from the outset in its advice to the RICS in the months leading up to the sacking of the non-executives.

Levitt said the firm had sided with the RICS’ executive team “without an objective analysis of the true merits of the situation”, adding that Fieldfisher had had multiple conflicts of interest which they “appear either to have ignored or misjudged”.

Fieldfisher has said that the firm is “disappointed” that it had been criticised in Levitt’s report and it was “committed to upholding the highest professional standards”.

The RICS’ governing council will provide further updates on its progress in implementing Levitt’s recommendations at its AGM on 25 November.

The release of the statement follows the body’s new presidential team starting its tenure two months earlier than planned due to this month’s resignations.

Clement Lau has stepped into his role as president alongside president-elect Ann Gray and senior vice-president Tina Paillet.