The new safety bill aims to mandate competence for set roles, but it would make more sense to mandate professional qualifications, argues Eleanor Jolliffe
Protection of function. The very words are usually enough to reignite old debates about what an architect is, or the unfairness of the UK system.
My own opinion, until recently, has been that if architects are as able to communicate their value as we all believe ourselves to be then we shouldn’t need protectionist regulation to ensure we all have a job in 30 years’ time. If we’re good at what we do, and adaptable to the changing construction industry, we don’t need protection of function. The draft Building Safety Bill (BSB) is changing my mind.
The BSB, in the words of the fact sheet HM government has prepared on industry competence, will “impose a requirement on principal designers, principal contractors and anyone carrying out any design or building work to be competent for their roles […] individuals will need to have the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours necessary for their role.”
Furthermore, the BSB, if it becomes law, will place a duty on clients or employers to ensure – and, for high-risk buildings, declare in writing – that the people they employ are competent.
It will also give powers to regulators (including Arb) to define and police competence in the building professions; to require named individuals to take responsibility for certain roles; and to require those carrying out design or building work to notify the relevant people when they are no longer competent for their roles or when work arises that is beyond their competence. To break any of these requirements will be a criminal offence.
The government will be publishing an approved document to support the bill, giving “examples of the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours and organisational capability needed to work on higher-risk buildings”. The BSB is not yet law and I do not disagree with its spirit, but to me the execution falls short of being fully effective. It has pulled its punches, leaving loopholes where it shouldn’t.
I do not disagree with the BSB’s spirit, but the execution falls short of being fully effective. It has pulled its punches, leaving loopholes where it shouldn’t
The government clearly feels that the building industry needs a shake-up and that competence needs to be more carefully defined and policed. Few of us can look at the horror stories we have all heard and disagree. However, if the government feels that public safety needs to be protected by defined competency standards and roles, this feels like the one time when mandated use of particular professions is warranted.
The argument for protection of title for architects has always been consumer confidence and public safety. It feels bizarre to me therefore that in the high-stakes world of high-risk buildings, competence should be mandated but not qualifications. If there was ever a scenario in which to legislate for the use of particular-built environment professionals, this would seem to be it.
If there was ever a scenario in which to legislate for the use of particular-built environment professionals, this would seem to be it
As the competence policing and frameworks from Arb et al have not yet been published, the following is pure supposition. However, it may be that in a post-BSB world we have specialist high-risk-building-certified architects, structural and MEP engineers and so on. I do not understand why the government would legislate for competence but then not for inclusion of the specialised, highly skilled professionals it will have effectively created with this legislation.
Protection of this specific function would seem logical, straightforward and simple to police, and would offer the most effective way to safeguard the public. Perhaps there are concerns about monopoly behaviour or restricting market freedom? To have such worries in regard to one set of professionals and yet elsewhere mandate the appointment of a “principal designer” and “principal contractor” (the CDM roles but with additional responsibilities) seems odd. (These two roles are not aligned with specific professional qualifications so they will not be subject to the same additional competency proofs of the building professions as they have no regulatory or professional body.)
Either the government believes additional architectural competencies are required or it does not, but it should not set different goals for different spectrums of architectural practitioners
The whole question of legislating the design team feels one step short of complete. The intentions are all there, and all good, but with no guarantees to the professionals who are likely to have to undertake greater qualification and CPD requirements to remain competent to work on high-risk buildings. Why bother, if anyone with an ability to bluff competence could be hired in your place as long as they don’t use your professional title? An architect working on one of these buildings will require competency certification from Arb. An architectural designer will (seemingly) be able to self-certify their competence. Either the government believes additional architectural competencies are required or it does not, but it should not set different goals for different spectrums of architectural practitioners.
If there is going to be legislation on how high-risk buildings should be designed, built and managed, it should be done thoroughly. To do otherwise is to risk ineffectiveness, future tragedy or stand-offs, such as those we have already seen between the government and the RICS. Ordinary, blameless lives always get caught in the crossfire, and good policy should make ordinary lives better, not worse.