QC behind explosive governance review reveals why it was delayed
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) made it “as difficult as possible” for people to contact the independent review into the body’s dismissal of four non-executive directors from its governing council, its author has said.
Alison Levitt QC, who led the review – the findings of which were published last week – said that the “RICS management and others on occasion” gave an “impression of reluctant acquiescence” from an early stage in her investigations.
The findings of the review, which was ordered by the RICS following a backlash among members against its treatment of the non-executives, has led to the resignations of four of its senior team.
The non-executives – Amarjit Atkar, Simon Hardwick, Bruce McAra and Steve Williams – were ousted in November 2019 after refusing to accept the findings of an internal review into the handling of a critical financial report.
Chief executive Sean Tompkins, president Kathleen Fontana, governing council chair Chris Brookes and management board chair Paul Marcuse have all stepped down following the publication of Levitt’s report.
The RICS confirmed that Tompkins will not receive a £190,000 bonus next year following his resignation. The payment was part of £260,000 awarded his year despite the institution furloughing staff and making others redundant during the pandemic.
> Also read: RICS governance scandal: Coverage all in one place
The review’s findings have sent shockwaves through the membership of the 153-year old institution. They revealed that the RICS gave an “inaccurate and misleading” statement to The Sunday Times, which first reported that the non-executives had gone, saying that the body’s governing council had been “kept informed” of events leading up to the ousting of the four non-executives. Levitt said that the governing council had not been told anything meaningful until after the non-executives had been dismissed.
She also said that while a separate internal review into the future purpose of the RICS, chaired by Tompkins and Fontana, appeared prominently on the landing page of the RICS’ website, the indepdendent review was “enormously difficult to find”.
It was never given equal prominence to the future purpose review. Levitt added that the RICS “dragged its feet” when asked to update revised terms of reference for the independent review, only doing so “after much prompting” when she was already halfway through the investigation.
Law firm Fieldfisher, which carried out the bulk of the internal review into the handling of the financial report, also came in for significant criticism by Levitt. She said that, from the outset, the firm had taken a “partisan approach”, siding with the RICS executive team “without an objective analysis of the true merits of the situation”.
Levitt added that Fieldfisher had multiple conflicts of interest which they “appear either to have ignored or misjudged”. The firm also failed to provide important evidence until six months into the investigation.
Levitt said Fieldfisher’s 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. The review, originally due in July, was not published until last week.
A spokesperson for Fieldfisher said: “We are disappointed to note that some of the actions of the firm and the partners who were involved in seeking to help RICS, in what was an exceptionally difficult time for the organisation, have been criticised. Fieldfisher is committed to upholding the highest professional standards and believes that our partners did so in the overall context of the events reviewed by Alison Levitt QC.”
A spokesperson for the RICS said: “Governing council has accepted all the conclusions of Alison Levitt QC’s report and is implementing all her recommendations.”
One of Levitt’s key recommendations is that an ongoing internal review into the future of the institution, which had been chaired by Tompkins and Fontana, should now be conducted by an external reviewer.
Tell us what you think should happen next at the RICS
Now, we want you, our readers, to tell us what you think of the findings of the Levitt review.
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.
> To have your say, please email the news team at firstname.lastname@example.org