RICS president Peter Fall wants the institution to have a global profile and he expects its members to fork out for it. The only problem is, some of them are beginning to wonder just what the point of RICS is …
Makeovers cost money, as surveyors really ought to know. Their professional body, the RICS, is stepping up its overseas recruitment and polishing its public profile, aiming to become "a global professional body with global influence", according to president Peter Fall. They're sick of being the forgotten heroes of the construction industry and they are keen to exploit the shift in the profession towards project management and management consultancy.

The RICS' 113,000 members are being asked to pay for these ambitions – membership fees are set to go up by one-third next year. Ordinary members will see their annual subscription rise from £190 to £250, and fellows will pay an extra £104 on top of their £320.

"It's about £2 a week more for the fellows and £1 for a normal member," explains Fall, senior partner at north-eastern building surveyor Peter Fall Cowie, clearly trying to play down the 25% hike. He argues that senior fellows within the RICS are well able to afford to bear the brunt. "These are people who are leading the profession, the high earners," he says. "They think they're better than everyone else, so why not pay for it? We're pushing their profile into the public eye, so they should take the biggest hit."

Such an increase would no doubt do little to dent Fall's own bank account – he earned £216,838 in 2002. An RICS spokesperson told Building: "The chief executive's remuneration is commensurate with the task the job demands. His pay and the subscription rise are not connected."

Fall's attempt at playing down the fee increase has fallen on deaf ears in the UK's biggest QS and project management firms. An informal group, known as the forum, which represents nine of the largest in the sector, wrote to Fall last week expressing their dissatisfaction. The firms, which include Davis Langdon & Everest, Cyril Sweett and EC Harris, are questioning – unsurprisingly, given their profession – whether a cost extension is justified. David Thompson, chairman of forum member AYH, sings a typical refrain. "I'm not in favour of an increase. I don't believe businesses are getting value for money."

The forum members, which pay their staff memberships fees, estimate they each fork out about £1m in subscriptions. Given that figure, they question whether the service from the RICS construction faculty is value for money. As well as questioning the budget control and financial management at the RICS, their letter brands the service "hardly inspiring". Although they have stopped short of refusing to pay the increased fees, the letter to Fall has been copied to staff. "We want them to consider how they think the RICS is performing and act accordingly," says the boss of one member firm.

Fall is undaunted by the opposition, confident that most members will support the increase – the result of the vote will come out on 14 May. He points to the achievements made since the RICS launched its equally controversial Agenda For Change in 2000. The RICS initially paid for the three-year programme through its financial reserves. So far it has spent more than £1m on the revamp, which includes the creation of 16 faculties to replace the old departments, the introduction of a detailed website and a weekly email system to keep members up to date, a call centre helping members of the public to find surveying practices and investment in marketing to counter surveyors' "Mr Ordinary" image and attract recruits. "As a surveyor, I want my profile raised in society so that people know what I do," Fall says in tub-thumping mode.

And more of the same is promised for the future – the fee hike will pay for the expanded policing of professional standards, recruitment campaigns, careers advice and lifelong professional development.

Senior fellows are the high earners and think they’re better than everyone else, so why not pay for it?

Then there's the global expansion, of course, which has led to allegations, led by an independent body of Australian QSs, of "imperialism". "An increasingly global economy needs global qualifications, a global professional body," Fall says. "There's no other professional body that gives the broad range of services the RICS does, and that is of global influence.

I think we will see a bigger, more influential network of surveyors around the world, having the same ethical standards and the same competence standards."

Fall has his backers, who claim that he is not only making a brave move but also genuinely listening to members. Duncan Priceton is a director at property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle and a member of the RICS governing council.

He says: "Peter Fall has taken his own stand on moving the RICS forward. The RICS needs a bit of a push, and – in a nice way – he's giving it that direction and drive that it needs. He's taking on board the views of members as he does it."

And some members say there have been recent improvements. Jim Kelly, a director at QS and project manager KHK, is not over the moon about the fee rise, but thinks the RICS' service has improved in the past two or three years. "They have really tried to be more relevant, to push more interaction with the business community," he says. "It's improved a hell of a lot." He compares this with two or three years ago when, he says, all it did was push out research and a monthly magazine that "told you about the latest cow shed being built in Sussex".