Leading architects accuse RIAS of secrecy and ‘insufficient financial accountability’

Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser

More than 150 of Scotland’s leading architects have launched an unprecedented attack on the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), accusing it of being financially inept and a “secretive and autocratic” organisation.

The group, calling itself A New Chapter, many of whom are RIAS members, revealed in an open letter their concerns at what they see as “a lack of effectiveness, poor governance and insufficient financial accountability in Scottish architecture’s professional body”.

Signed by leading figures including Malcolm Fraser, Charlie Hussey, Chris Platt, Helen Lucas, Jude Barber and Paul Stallan, the letter deplores the “general, self-satisfied torpor and bunkered, closed-up-ness that afflicts the RIAS, and demand that a culture of openness and inclusivity is now embraced”.

The letter reads: “We want an organisation to better champion the profession and provide more meaningful support in the many crises which have afflicted us for too long; from the institutionalised contempt for our professional skills represented by the ongoing PFI scandals and the procurement cesspool we have to wade through; to the housing crisis we should be engaged in averting, and to those of inclusivity, sustainability and wellbeing that we should be leading”.

The letter is the third sent to RIAS president Stewart Henderson in recent weeks.

It also asks the RIAS to disclose how much its senior staff are paid in “recent wage rises, bonus payments and other financial benefits” and to explain how the incorporation’s council exercises its responsibility to set staff pay.

The group has requested that the following is revealed:

  • A breakdown of pay received by the Incorporations’ most senior employees, including recent wage rises, bonus payments and other financial benefits;
  • How exactly Council exercises its responsibility to set staff remuneration as stated in the Annual Accounts;
  • A copy of the independent salaries benchmarking Review, with personal details removed as may be required by data protection law, but otherwise un-redacted.
  • A copy of the independent Probity Review, again with personal details removed as may be required by data protection law, but otherwise un-redacted.
  • A copy of the independent Governance Review into existing management practices, not just what new policies and procedures are being proposed.

It letter ends by saying: “Finally, and in general, we deplore the general self-satisfied torpor and bunkered closed-up-ness that afflicts the RIAS, and demand that a culture of openness and inclusivity is now embraced. We would like to see much of the old establishment give way to a more representative group, with a better balance of younger and female members, and a new commitment to our responsibilities to society to better face the challenges in front of us.”

RIAS President Stewart Henderson insisted that work was being carried out to improve the structure and management of the body.

He said: “As a member-led organisation, member interest and involvement in the issues facing the profession can only strengthen the Incorporation. We are already progressing a full review of both the governance and the future direction of the Incorporation.

“The Incorporation appreciates that the Trustees, who make up Council, must look forward to embrace a governance and operating system that brings the openness that is right for a member led organisation. The RIAS staff are here to respond to and support members’ priorities.

“The Incorporation is committed to seeking wider involvement from members in responding to and shaping corporate strategy. The recent chapter-led consultations will help to shape the next 5 year plan. Chapter involvement is central to feedback of information to Council. Considerable on-going work has already focussed on responding to those areas highlighted in the open letters.

“The Incorporation is clear that more could be done and with further support more can happen to inform and influence these future agendas. There has been no attempt to cover up investigations, however there are legal reasons why information has not yet been shared in full. The Governance Group appointed by Council have instructed investigations of a number of issues. These have included probity reviews, salary benchmarking and a review of governance policies. Where legally possible trustees can share details, to which they have been party.

“The Incorporation is happy that they share details with members. The review has identified a lack of structured governance and this needs to be addressed with improved management organisation and accountability measures put in place. The RIAS must look forwards to determine the aims and future of the organisation. The Incorporation recognises that diversity is one of those aims. Election of the president is as currently set out in our Charter. Once legal impediments are behind us, there will be an opportunity to harness the creative energy symbolic of our membership and respond appropriately.”