Chief executive sets out priority areas in letter to chancellor

RIBA’s chief executive has written to the chancellor telling the government to lead by example as a major construction client.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak this week, Alan Vallance, said the government must commit to both faster payment terms and direct payments to subcontractors.

Alan vallance headshot

Source: Morley von Sternberg

Alan Vallance

The plea was one of a string of demands that focused on three main areas: cash flow, planning and keeping sites open.

The ability of the sector to keep working was vitally important, he said, and since two-thirds of materials were imported, customs clearance processes must be maintained.

“The understandable prioritisation of essential medical and food supplies [must] not lead to delays elsewhere,” said Vallance in a comment piece published in Building Design today.

Cash flow was architects’ most pressing and immediate source of concern, he added, with the Treasury needing to consider a range of measures that allow businesses to prioritise their day-to-day financial transactions.

“Some of this is relatively straightforward: the immediate deferral of PAYE, VAT and business rate payments, clear guidance on how to access loans and the timescales for how long they can expect to wait for decisions and funds,” said Vallance.

“But this isn’t going to be enough. Government needs to pull together a joined-up response. As a major client in the construction sector it must commit to faster payment terms and direct payment to subcontractors on public contracts. We also think a government-backed low/no cost factoring facility for private contracts would be of great benefit given the wider uncertainty in the market.”

Firms also needed access to cash to invest immediately in home-working technology.

Vallance said his third priority was keeping the “business of architects [going] as far as is possible and safe”, with the continuance of planning of vital importance.

Local planning authorities will need additional support and flexibility from the Treasury and MHCLG as well as short- and medium-term funding to cover staff absences.

“We also think there is a need to look at the practical operation of the system under these circumstances,” he said.

“This could mean the relaxation of time limits for planning applications to allow local authorities to prioritise cases to reflect health and safety considerations and the nature of requests, and waivers to allow the deferral of requirements for information if planning officers judge a request to be of low or no impact.”

Vallance ended by saying: “This is very much our first assessment of how the government can help. As the situation changes, it is vital that we all listen to each other and reflect on what is and isn’t working. I’d urge you to discuss these vital issues with your colleagues and clients and let us know what we can do to help you and your businesses.”