Property Trade Body RIBA Accused Of Bullying, Intimidation And Overspending

Property industry association the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has been accused of bullying, intimidation and overspending by one of its former presidents.

Owen Luder, one of only three people to have served two terms as president of the trade body, said managers had failed to tackle a “culture of bullying and intimidation” and had carried out poor commercial decisions.

RIBA represents more than 44,000 architects and runs awards, competitions and campaigns.

Luder, who served as president for terms in the 1980s and 1990s, accused the body of failing to account for a £1 million overspend on a property deal to accommodate its London staff, according to the Times.

He also said RIBA was preparing to “sell the family silver” — a reference to plans to sell the trade body’s commercial division, which sells services to the construction industry and earns £4 million a year.

In 2013, the organisation borrowed £21 million to lease a building next to its north London headquarters for staff, enabling the grade II listed building to be used for more events and exhibitions.

Alan Vallance, its chief executive, admitted in an email in February last year that more than £1 million of refurbishment costs could not be properly accounted for.

“I cannot guarantee that the £1.1 million [overspend] could be fully itemised as part of the problem has been the way in which financial expenditure has been captured during the project . . . record-keeping has been poor,” Vallance wrote in February last year.

“It has been established that £1.1 million is ‘missing’ and it is understood this money remains unaccounted for,” Luder said. “Architects are right to expect the RIBA’s finances to be managed effectively. It is not the case, currently.”

Luder claimed that as a result of this poor financial management, RIBA Enterprises, the organisation’s commercial division, is being prepared for sale. It is expected that it will be placed on the market by early July with a valuation of up to £100 million and that the institute will attempt to retain about 45%, he said.

“The membership haven’t got a clue what a mess the RIBA has made of it as it’s all kept secret and people are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements,” Luder argued. “It needs to be exposed because it’s just wrong.

“There is an urgent need for fundamental change at the RIBA away from those who created these very serious mis-governance and financial problems. It’s time to return the institute to its members.”

RIBA has also faced accusations of institutional racism after Elsie Owusu, who is campaigning to become the first black president of the 184-year-old body, revealed she had received a threatening letter in 2015.

She claimed that “discrimination and treating black people worse than other staff goes through architecture like a stick of rock”. The institute said that it would investigate.

RIBA denied that members’ funds had been misplaced but did not respond to a further request by the Times for information on the proposed sale of RIBA Enterprises.

“These allegations are misinformed and highly misleading,” a spokesman said. “The RIBA has no ‘unaccounted’ finances. All expenditure, including the referenced 2013 finances, is accounted for within the RIBA’s financial records.”

DealMakerz hopes the issues are resolved soon, as the claims are yet another blow to the property industry’s reputation.

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