Four of the RICS’ senior team resigned this month following Alison Levitt’s report into a governance scandal. We asked members what they thought of the report’s findings and how the institution needs to change. Here are their responses.
The findings of Alison Levitt QC’s independent review into the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ handling of a critical financial report was more shocking than many expected. It concluded that four non-executive directors had been unfairly dismissed from the 153-year-old institution’s governing council in November 2019 after they refused to accept the findings of an internal review into why the financial report had not been shared.
The internal review, Levitt found, had been mostly carried out by law firm Fieldfisher with its conclusions decided before “already decided before it had been commissioned”. RICS chief executive Sean Tompkins and chief operating officer Violetta Parylo, who quit in June, had become “used to operating with little effective scrutiny” and had developed a “deep-seated resistance to challenge”.
Levitt said the RICS, which had ordered her investigations under pressure from members, had made it “as difficult as possible” for people to contact her. Fieldfisher had failed to provide important evidence until six months into the investigation. When it was finally provided, the documents showed that the RICS’ senior leadership had been trying to find a way to oust the non-execs for months before their dismissal.
On the day Levitt’s report was published, Tompkins, president Kathleen Fontana, former president and governing council chair Chris Brookes, and management board chair Paul Marcuse all announced their resignations. Levitt has recommended that an ongoing review into the future purpose of the institution should now be transferred to an external reviewer.
In the wake of these upheavals in one of the UK’s oldest and most esteemed professional bodies, we asked members what they thought of Levitt’s report and where they think the RICS should go now.
What the members think:
We welcome and are not surprised with the findings, which support the feedback we have received from the hundreds of members and current/former employees we have canvassed over the past year.
The report raises significant issues which will require further investigation by RICS. The recommendation for a wide-ranging examination of purpose, governance and strategy, conducted by an external reviewer who is independent of RICS, has our wholehearted support.
While we agree with the 16 specific recommendations, in our opinion before the RICS can rebuild the trust from members, it is essential that membership of the governing council (GC) is reviewed immediately.
We suggest that all current members of GC, many of whom we understand were endorsed/supported by former senior RICS staff under what we consider to be a flawed “election/selection” process, should carefully consider their position and make way for members who are voted on by the membership without any influence whatsoever from RICS employees/staff.
Thomas Dempsey, Russell Welsh, Paul Roberts, Secretariat
Like many others in the RICS I am appalled at the way in which the institution has behaved. I have long felt that the RICS has become an overblown organisation, with unrealistic visions, and with an overpaid CEO and top-level management.
The RICS has forgotten it is a professional body and not a commercial organisation.
The recent governance scandal has severely damaged the RICS both reputationally and financially. The calls to have a thorough shake-up of the management of the RICS and how it operates are correct. It should be run as an efficient business in the interests of its members.
The membership needs a strong and transparent executive but not one that is paid excessive salaries and bonuses.
Had it not been for the four NEDs, particularly Simon Hardwick and former council members, the true extent of the executives actions would have not come to light. The original request from the NEDs to see the BDO report was straightforward.
The membership must now have a root-and-branch review to return the RICS to a true professional body to uphold the Royal Charter and respect the members’ wishes. We are still a members’ organisation and not just a business.
I am a former contractor’s QS and, while I knew many years ago (1997) that the RICS did not want us builders, I persevered and achieved my MRICS qualification. This was not easy, because of time and because construction companies have traditionally not been viewed favourably in the RICS.
I now see the embarrassing situation and standards that the board and others have set. I am questioning if I wish to remain as a member after this December when my membership is up for renewal.
I read the executive summary of the Levitt report and cannot understand why the organisation required an overdraft facility increase of so much when they are charging so much in fees. There is something wrong, full stop.
I have reviewed what benefit I receive from being part of the RICS. The CPD events are all paid to attend, my voice as an international claims/contractors’ QS is not heard.
The ICE is half the price of the RICS. How can they justify this expense given the lack of standards relating to what took place in 2019/2020?
Today I am embarrassed to be a chartered surveyor.
There needs to be root-and-branch reform of the whole structure of the institution after substantial consultation with members as to what will best serve their needs.
Over the last few years the RICS has become unapproachable to grassroots members wanting advice. They have pursued a policy of global presence at the expense of members’ needs.
When I sent an enquiry to Alison Levitt, she replied to me within hours. I would have been lucky to get a reply at all from the RICS. That says it all to me.
We are told that RICS professionals are meant to demonstrate their commitment to ethical behaviour by adhering to the five global professional and ethical standards. How are members like me meant to defend the RICS? Not only to ourselves, but our friends and families that we missed out spending time with while studying for the sought-after credentials or to new potential members?
I think a refresher programme for all to assess professional competence would be a good starting point.
I was surprised that I found the briefing quite positive for the profession as to be honest I was expecting another cover-up. I think the resignations are a good first step and welcome them.
The RICS needs to demonstrate that it upholds its own standards of ethics and be a market leader in promoting best-in-class behaviour, not trailing behind industry with hypocritical scandal cover-ups and allegations of burying accusations of bullying from staff.
I hope that they will now take steps to return the institution to its former reputation. It will not be a quick or easy process but it is vital for its survival.
I was absolutely appalled at what Alison had to say. It was much worse than I feared. Tomkins should have been sacked and made to repay his bonus. He was grossly overpaid. This shows the present leadership is not strong enough to take tough decisions. I felt that it was a bit of a damage limitation exercise by Nick McLean.
I was astounded to learn that the overdraft had been increased without the knowledge of the governing council. There was so much I learnt it was difficult to take it all in. It was unbelievable that general counsel had outsourced/contracted out the governance review to a company who supplied the answers she wanted.
Probably there should be further resignations although I imagine there will be an effort to batten down the hatches so this may not happen. Certainly a strong chairman and president are needed and an overhaul of the governing council. The members need to take back control of their Institution.
I would like the RICS to concentrate on promoting the profession: standards, recruitment and consumer education for the local surveyor rather than world domination.
We might need a separate body to promote and regulate the UK, leaving another worldwide body for the big firms?
RICS needs to employ surveyors as well as managers so that they understand members’ needs. I don’t know how the small firms are able to be represented.
Will notices of censure be issued to any current or previous officers of the RICS in the light of Ms Levitt’s review, and if not why not ?
The institution is more interested in developing itself into some grandiose body that covers the world, but ignores its core members, except when it comes to charging them to pay the huge salaries that the Institution dishes out.
The change in culture required is to return to concentrating on promoting the training and professionalism of the membership as a whole (not just the top echelons of large companies), and to communicate effectively with the public about what we do and how we can add value to their property dealings.
They also need to reign in the excessive spending and salaries in the same way that the member’s do in their own companies, and stop treating the members as simply a resource to further their own goals.
On top of that they need to have far greater transparency and outside scrutiny of their actions.
Finally, they need to promote the profession to the up and coming youngsters, and return it again to an attractive vocation, because without them there will be no profession to regulate.
The review’s findings made it inevitable that the most senior figures in the RICS would have to leave although I believe it is unprecedented for a president and CEO of a body incorporated by Royal Charter, that seeks to represent the standards of our profession on a global basis, to have to go in this manner. This is an appalling advert for our profession on the world stage.
The only good thing to come out of the sorry episode is that it should be the stimulus for a complete restructuring of the body. A new team can take the opportunity to listen to the views of the membership, modernise, reform and ensure safeguards are put in place that prevent a debacle of this magnitude never occurring again.
Richard Steer chairman, Gleeds Worldwide
I was saddened but not overly surprised by the report’s findings. Perhaps the governance architecture had a hand in the failings but it was up to the senior and presumably competent and well-paid staff to identify failings in structure and rectify them. Instead it appears the magisterium of administrators drove following their own route and this may have accounted for feelings of disenfranchisement that I know I felt. As for apparently refusing to share an audit report which each and every member had an interest in, then that is totally unacceptable.
For a major professional body with clear responsibilities to the wider public and society, to be publically disgraced in this way is a national scandal. Under the governance of those who have now been disgraced, the RICS was referred to as a business which generated a totally inappropriate ethos within the organisation.
What we learn from the review is a complete disregard for professionalism, transparency, accountability and altruism, all of the principles that we promote in professional education and training for those aspiring to be professional members of RICS.
>> Also read: RICS governance scandal: coverage all in one place
Interesting to read that the RICS wants to focus on a fundamental change of culture. That’s not going to be easy, nor is it going to happen overnight.
My view is that they need to get back to basics – an institution run by members for the benefit of members. And they need to engage more with members and listen to what they say.
I thought Alison Levitt did an incredible job. At times she was compassionate when she didn’t need to be as the evidence was conclusive and damning.
Correct policies and procedures need to be put in place and also an accurate accounting system. When compared with some complex construction projects, all the RICS does is collect membership payments and pay for expenses (simplified I know).
As an RICS member of over 20 years and a few more, I have experienced a constant and indeed continual shift away from a member serving Institution to one of a more commercial bias. Member services have been moved from a low cost/ free CDP base to one of a commercial enterprise with training events now even at discounted member rates exceeding the costs of commercially available alternatives.
Tell us what you think should happen next at the RICS
Have the resignations come as a surprise? Does the report change how you feel about the RICS and its reputation? Which recommendations in the report stand out? Is another independent review into the RICS’ future purpose the right way to go? How quickly does the RICS need to take action to address the failures highlighted in the review?
This governance scandal throws up so many questions, and we want to know what you think about it all.
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