Gloves come off in the RIBA’s War of the Alans

Alan Jones aired “serious concerns” about RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance’s performance two weeks before details of his alleged extra-marital affair were leaked to the press, the institute’s former honorary secretary has claimed.

The RIBA said it was investigating Jones’ complaints against Vallance, but he is said to be angry that it has taken so long for his complaint to be looked into.

Meanwhile, a separate complaint, lodged by the former honorary secretary, Kerr Robertson, has been closed by the institute. The RIBA said this was because Robertson refused to agree to the proposed investigation process. He said he objected to Jack Pringle, the chairman of the board, overseeing what he felt should be an independent investigation.

No one Building Design spoke to would divulge details of the complaints against Vallance – who many credit with turning around the RIBA’s dire financial position. But Robertson said: “They are about compliance and reporting policy and procedures, performance and operational matters.”

Vallance contests the allegations.

Robertson’s claim comes after Jones’ shock resignation from the RIBA board of trustees yesterday, catapulting a long-running war between the two men into the public eye.

The RIBA issued a statement saying Jones “did not support the board’s collective decision to negotiate the renewal of the chief executive’s contract”.

Vallance was appointed on a five-year fixed-term basis which is now up for renewal. The rest of the board agreed last week to begin negotiations with him on renewing his contract but Jones objected and quit. His allies say Vallance’s pay packet – thought to be close to £300,000 with bonuses – and his accountancy rather than architectural or cultural background are also among his reasons for not supporting the board’s position.

Alan vallance headshot

Source: Morley von Sternberg

Alan Vallance

Ben Derbyshire, Jones’ predecessor as president, said it was legitimate to question what kind of chief executive the RIBA wanted going forward but that these discussions should not be “at the expense of Alan Vallance’s reputation because he has done a great job”.

He added: “The RIBA is a very large, diverse and complicated business and it’s certainly needed someone of Alan Vallance’s skills to undertake the [recent] refinancing. In fact I’d go as far as to say that if it hadn’t happened the organisation would probably be insolvent.”

Building Design has learnt that the Charity Commission has been informed of developments. Its remit is to ensure charities have suitable governance procedures in place rather than to investigate specific complaints.

It first got involved in March last year when allegations were made about Jones relating to an intimate relationship he was said to have had with an architecture graduate in her 40s. He stepped down that month but was reinstated in June 2020 after issuing an unqualified apology and signing off on a press statement which included the sentence: “My intention was to help and support her, however gradually we became friends and later the relationship became close for some months.”

Robertson told Building Design this was misleading because he did not believe Jones had had a sexual relationship with the woman.

Robertson said he had come under pressure to encourage Jones to resign last year but that he had resisted and instead commissioned an internal investigation into the allegations around the alleged affair. This concluded they were largely false, he said. But before the matter could be concluded the details were leaked to the press, making national headlines and causing huge embarrassment to the RIBA which is often criticised for its lack of transparency. Jones took a “leave of absence”, leaving the institute leaderless just as it was having to deal with the onset of the pandemic.

Alan Jones

Jack Pringle, a former RIBA president who is currently chair of the board, told Building Design: “Alan Vallance has the ongoing support of the board. Alan Jones has the support of the board to continue to complete his presidency.”

He said RIBA members could have “full confidence” in the institute, adding: “The future is bright for the RIBA because of the work done under Alan Jones as president to revamp the RIBA’s constitution and plans being put in place for the next president.”

AHMM director Simon Allford takes over from Jones on September 1.

Pringle would not say when the investigation into the allegations about Vallance might be concluded.

The institute said: “RIBA is unable to comment on the details of a complaint made against an individual. We can confirm that Alan Jones made a complaint concerning RIBA’s chief executive. RIBA is following its complaints procedure and the matter is being independently investigated. The chief executive contests the complaint.”

Earlier it said: “Alan Jones opposed the board’s collective decision to negotiate the renewal of the chief executive’s contract. He therefore decided to resign. He remains RIBA president and chair of council until the end of his tenure on August 31.”