Thursday24 July 2014

Government to receive dossier of Arb's 'outrages'

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Former board member George Oldham compiles evidence on eve of government review

The government is to be handed a dossier cataloguing Arb’s alleged mistreatment of a number of its members.

The document will become evidence in an impending review of the regulator, which could end in Arb’s abolition if found wanting.

The dossier is being compiled by George Oldham, a former Arb board member who has already written to Richard Harral, principal architect at the Department for Communities & Local Government, to share his concerns.

Harral attended last week’s Arb board meeting to explain that the review, starting in February, would be lengthy and resource-intensive. Confirming that Arb could ultimately be wound up, he said: “This process is to make sure things are fit for purpose and that they deliver.”

George Oldham

George Oldham.

Oldham told BD he was aware of several “outrageous cases of maladministration”, including his own, that had cost an estimated £200,000 in legal fees and staff costs — a tab shared by every architect on the register. Arb’s legal fees rose 24% last year to £853,648.

The cases Oldham is compiling include an architect who was hauled before the PCC on a disciplinary and competence matter only for it to be dropped, though not before incurring thousands of pounds in legal costs that left the architect unable to obtain PI cover.

Others relate to charges that can “barely be substantiated”, one of which is now subject to an appeal.

“I am the tip of the iceberg. Miscarriages of justice are going on all the time at Arb,” said Oldham. He received a reprimand in May after being found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct over an email in which he referred to election candidates as “the ethnics”.

Arb’s professional conduct committee accepted that while there were no allegations of racism, his comments were “capable of adverse interpretation”.

This week it emerged that his case was referred to the investigations committee by Arb registrar Alison Carr, despite there never having been a complaint from the public. Oldham claims his prosecution alone cost Arb £50,000.

Board members, speaking to BD on condition of anonymity, said Carr only admitted she was the source after dogged questioning. “It made us all really uncomfortable because it’s very rare for the regulator itself to complain about an architect,” said one.

“It looks pretty vindictive. When George was on the board his remit was to get rid of the Arb and this was an opportunity for Alison to get her own back. The sanction was completely disproportionate.”

Carr argued that the Architects’ Act had compelled her to refer the case. “It says, ‘Where it appears to the registrar that a registered person may be guilty of unacceptable professional conduct the case shall be investigated’,” she said.

She said she could not comment further on an individual case.



Readers' comments (31)

  • Good luck on getting ARB abolished, because if there is one thing that leviathan bureaucracies and those who work in them are good at, it is acting in their own self-defence, and there are no depths to which they will not stoop to do so.

    I say that as someone who took on a bullying NHS boss in what turned out to be a very short-lived job...if you've ever read anything about bullying in the NHS and how people will be forced out if they don't conform and comply absolutely, I can tell you its all true.

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  • ARB could only be abolished if some other body took its place.

    As for its being a "leviathan bureaucracy" my own impression is, rather, that it's a small number of people who don't like architects or foreigners.

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  • james francis

    While there are undoubtedly issues to be addressed the ARB should be the tool to ensure that quality is maintained in the profession and help to protect the public. The government should bear this in mind; just think how the poorly regulated banking sector caused such pain for everyone else.

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  • Mr Oldham refers to miscarriages of justice but we only hear of cases taken to tribunals. The problems inside RMJM which ARB has ignored shows how narrow focused ARB has become.
    One problem is that ARB can only pursue an 'architect in person' so it ends up pursuing only one man/woman practices and pursuing architects over ever more ridiculous and petty charges such as 'causing irritation'.
    When it sits, the tribunal has only one architect member who appears to be out voted most of the time. (or perhaps has just 'gone native').
    Based on 18 tribunals last year I calculate each prosecution cost over £47,000. That means the retention fee of over 8500 architects was spent on prosecuting 18 architects. This might be justified if the complaints were serious or life threatening but one only has to read Mr Oldham's case and the recent case of Mr Neil Shepherd to conclude that ARB's prosecution budgeting suffers from a severe lack of proportionality.

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  • @ James Francis- very true, the ARB is defined by its statutory remit and serves a vital function. How well or badly it does this should be the subject of scrutiny, not its existence.
    Whenever this matter comes up there are worrying suggestions that the RIBA should take over the Register. There are many Architects who do not want to have anything to do with the RIBA, and the existece of the ARB ensures that we do not have to join that very expensive and useless London club for the architectural establishment.

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  • @ Austin: "There are many Architects who do not want to have anything to do with the RIBA"

    I'm one.

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  • Austin Clegg: do you prefer a very expensive and useless Quango?
    ARCUK maintained a register for a very much cheaper price than ARB. Surely that would be preferable and then forget ARB's pretence of protecting the public from irritating or loose tongued architects.

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  • ARB can only regulate individual architects. That's not its fault: that's what the Architects Act says. For those who accuse it of ignoring RMJM, could you please say which individual architect you would wish ARB to discipline in this case?

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  • Alex, what you say is indubitably true, but you're completely missing the point.

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  • @ Christopher Calcroft- my point was not that the ARB was desirable in its present form, it was that we need an equivalent of the General Medical Council for Architects- a register independent of other professional bodies like the RIBA . Registation would cost about £25 a year if we weren't funding the lawyers to persue petty cases.

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