Tuesday29 July 2014

Architects hit out at Tory 'smear tactics'

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Practices expose how Conservative Party cited massively exaggerated figures on BSF fees.

Architects have accused the Conservative Party of casting a slur on the entire profession by publishing “wildly inaccurate” figures that suggest they made a fortune from Labour’s school-building programme.

The chairman of Aedas, Brian Johnson, accused the Tories of making a “cheap political point without any consideration to the true facts” and said they had confused “design fees” with “architects’ fees”.

The row stems from a prominent report in last week’s Sunday Times claiming architects made almost £100 million from just 21 councils under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme which was axed by Michael Gove when he became education secretary.

The story was based on a series of requests made by the Tories under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act asking local authorities how much they paid architects and other consultants for new secondary schools.

Only 21 councils responded but the Tories said if the findings were scaled up across the whole BSF programme, architects would have been paid £2.7 billion in total.

The story named a number of architects including Aedas, BDP and Foster & Partners, all of whom complained that the figures attributed to them are inaccurate.

The Sunday Times said Aedas was paid more than £2.5 million for Walkden High School in Salford but Johnson said the true sum was a third of this because the figure quoted covered the fees of all design consultants, rather than just architects.

“In reality the fees paid to architects are a fraction of the overall design costs,” he said.

Even in a case where a multi-disciplinary architect provided all the extra design work, the figures are disputed.

BDP designed the £36 million Teddington School and was also responsible for its structural and environmental engineering, landscape architecture, interior design, lighting design, acoustics, sustainability and planning.

Nevertheless, chief executive Peter Drummond insisted the practice was paid less than the £2.6 million alleged in the Sunday Times.

“A rant about architects’ fees on schools is a rather pointless exercise without a proper explanation of what is actually involved in the specific project,” he said.

“Sadly this doesn’t make for fascinating journalism or political headlines. But if any of the senior politicians involved would like to understand more, we would be happy to fill in the gaps.”

RIBA president Ruth Reed accused the Tories of singling out the profession and slurring it with a “gross distortion of the true picture”.

Fees were often shared between up to 30 consultants and the portion received by architects was sometimes not adequate to sustain office and staffing costs, she said.

She questioned the party’s motives, suggesting it might be trying to justify the claim that it doesn’t need architects to design schools.

“They can’t possibly deliver a schools programme without a design team but there’s a real danger of architects being marginalised as a profession that adds aesthetics, rather than being recognised for delivering the good value that¹s inherent in good design,” she said.

“We have never been happy with BSF and we petitioned - almost in isolation initially - saying it wasn’t the right way to go about procurement. It’s crazy we are now held to be the culprits.”

Gove has repeatedly accused architects of “creaming off cash” from BSF and although there is no evidence the FOI requests were initiated by his office, Reed said his trenchant views on design were at odds with those of other ministers.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Our Freedom of Information request could not have been clearer. We asked 151 local authorities explicitly for ’the total amount spent on architects’ fees’ and we have used the precise figures provided by those local authorities.”

Claims vs reality

Walkden High School

The claim: The Tories said Aedas was paid more than £2.5 million for Walkden High School in Salford.

The reality: Aedas told BD its actual fee was just a third of this and pointed out that it had created a “kit” which could be used to cut costs in future projects.

Teddington School

The claim: The highest single fee in the Tories’ dossier was £2.6 million, allegedly paid to BDP for Teddington School.

The reality: BDP said it performed many other services besides architecture and received less than the figure claimed.

Bexley Business Academy

The claim: The Sunday Times said Foster & Partners was paid £6.15 million for the pre-BSF Bexley Business Academy.

The reality: Fosters says it was paid £1.4 million and “donated a considerable amount of time” supporting “this worthy cause”.


Readers' comments (15)

  • So glad to see this lengthy rebuff in the niche architectural press where I imagine a wide audience will see revealed the shoddy research and shoddy demagoguery of the Tory party. RIBA, where are you? £400 a year for a magazine and the occassional soundbite. Oh, and I got an enamel badge this year.

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  • Has The Times done a follow up article?

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  • james francis

    Get Mr Gove in to answer some questions now BD.

    I am getting annoyed at having to adress the public perception that architects earn huge wages when most of my peers are scraping by on peanuts.

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  • And why is it that the Conservative Party only asked about architects fees, and not design team, or indeed other consultant fees. If anyones been creaming the BSF fees its the hoards of other consultants peripheral to the design process. Oh, and what about the LEPs?

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  • Again, architects fail to see the bigger picture and moan on about the size of their fees!

    There is OBVIOUSLY a political aspect to this that architects have failed - again - to grasp.

    Architects live in their own bubble and they can't see the world outside it.

    Whatever the 'truth' is, it's perceptions that count and the powers that run the profession have consistently failed to point out the value of a well designed built environment.

    I guess the'll be more moaning and groaning about how badly architects are treated. Well, it a tough world!

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  • These architects and the RIBA need to publish a rebuttal in the Sunday Times backed up with some salient facts and figures.

    The fact that the FOI findings focus purely on architects, and no other elements of the design or delivery teams, means that there are no grounds for comparison and a judgement cannot be made. But the electorate will be quick to form a judgement based upon this limited information issued from a supposedly responsible source.

    It is no good relying on the architectural press to refute allegations made by the Tories in the national press or on television. The architectural press is a niche market and we are already aware of the smear and disagree with these claims. Many of us have been made redundant and are still looking for work, so many architectural practices did not accrue huge fee payments through BSF. Many were lucky to make just enough profit to keep their staff in employment!

    If the smear is dished out in a widely accessible public format, then the rebuttal should be delivered in the same way, otherwise it is lost in the ether and the original allegation stands unchallenged.

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  • Alisa Selezneva

    Paul, I agree with you to a point – but there’s absolutely no need to gloat! It is political, but I believe Architects are picked on for no other reason that they are an easy target – imagine if it was a more “serious” profession, protected by the real professional body… Sadly it is probably a well known fact that RIBA will not do anything to dispute this… Horrible to hear this kind of rubbish at the time when so many architects are underpaid, unemployed and generally depressed with their careers.

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  • Mike Duriez

    The Tories are trying to draw attention away from the fact that the real creamers (and who often are core Tory supporters) are still creaming. Legal, banking and other financial services areas are perfect pastures for milking the system till the cows come home.

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  • Paul,

    Think if you read pretty much any of the above, it is clear that all appreciate there is a political motive in what the tories are doing.

    It is a shame we are being targeted, but we need to evolve and move forward to demonstrate our worth.

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  • Take the fee and divide is by the number of hours spent on the project and we'll see the true story of whether architects are profiteering.
    Unsurprisingly if you did this for the FFE / ICT or e-learning consultant, then you'd see who makes the most for the least amount of work done.

    Wonder if he'll criticise Pricewaterhouse Coopers for creaming off taxpayers money? doh! That would be too close to home.

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