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Wednesday23 July 2014

Is the rise in Arb’s fee justified?

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Beatrice Fraenkel says the increased fee allows Arb to fulfil its obligations. No, says Piers Taylor, Arb needs to take a long hard look at its operating costs

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Are funds running low at Arb, or does it just need to slim down its activities?

“YES”

Beatrice Fraenkel
Arb chair

The board must fulfil its statutory obligations under the Architects Act 1997, and therefore sets the fee at a level that allows Arb to discharge these responsibilities.

It takes account of the annual business plan and Arb’s financial commitments. It is not an arbitrary decision.

The board recognises the need to keep the fee to the barest minimum so the impact on architects is not disproportionate to the need for Arb to meet its statutory obligations. Arb’s fee has always been among the lowest paid by professionals, and the board intends to keep it that way.

The board held the 2009 fee at £86 for 2010, and reduced it by £6 in 2011. The 2012 fee was held at the same level, £80. This was achievable only by running a deficit budget for the year, and by drawing heavily on Arb’s reserves to help fund the delivery of its responsibilities.

The reserves would have been depleted further had it not been for efficiency savings made throughout the year. The board acknowledged that this was the last point at which the fee could be held without it impacting on Arb’s statutory duties.

Reserves also funded the escalating demands of Arb’s complaints investigation work. Trends indicate that complaints are likely to remain high in 2013, and the budget must reflect this. Funds must also be rebuilt to meet the board’s policy of holding four months of operating costs in reserve, as expected by the communities and local government department.

The board took all these factors into account when setting the fee at £98.50 for 2013. Had Arb not taken steps in previous years to maintain and reduce the fee, but increased it year-on-year in line with inflation, the 2013 fee would have been £99.43.

“NO”

Piers Taylor
Director at Invisible Studio

The £18.50 increase in the cost of remaining on the Architects Registration Board isn’t the point — the issue is the way Arb goes about its business. Architects resent paying additional money for Arb to do things they don’t want or need.

Arb has concocted a self-aggrandising idea about its functions, enlarging its administration in excess of what was authorised by the Architects Act in 1997. Arb tells us it is “protecting the consumer and safeguarding the reputation of architects”, and “promot[ing] good standards both in the education of architects and in professional practice”. Architects already have the RIBA, which quite successfully promotes architecture, and they don’t need another organisation.

Arb should be doing less, not more, and thus reducing rather than increasing its costs. Irrespective of the long-running debate over whether or not the role performed by Arb should be incorporated into the RIBA, the simple fact is that the bloated Arb takes on too much that is outside its necessary function and thus needs to generate additional funds to pay its staff and keep its offices.

Arb salaries cost it (us) £1,251,760 — an average £59,507 per person, with their salaries continuing to rise through 2012. Last time I looked, the average architect’s salary was at an all-time low of around £38,000, with huge unemployment in graduating students.

Like the rest of the profession, Arb needs to take a long hard look at its operating costs. To hike its fees by 20% in the midst of the worst period on record for the construction sector shows a breathtaking lack of judgment.

Like one graduating architect has done, perhaps it’s time for Arb to put its services on Ebay with a 99p starting bid and for us to pay what we think it is worth.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The palatial ARB offices in Weymouth Street may be some guide as to why they need to up the fees by so much.

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