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President looks back and ahead as he departs RIBA

Ben Derbyshire

Ben Derbyshire departs the presidency with a sense of achievement – and optimism for the future

As I look back on three years since I was elected president of RIBA, I reflect on the strapline of my election campaign #ChangeIsNecessary. It recognised that significant change is not in the gift of one person, one president, one term to deliver, and I do not take the credit. But it has been a privilege to have occupied the president’s office and on behalf of all those who have been involved, I am proud that the institute is on a firm financial footing and will soon obtain the effective governance necessary for an even stronger organisation, membership and voice.

I have not space to go into all the aspects of change that will benefit members here – RIBA is so broad and wide-ranging with responsibilities for membership growth guidance and benefits, standards of education and practice, ethics, CPD, the collections, awards, cultural programme, publishing, research, policy and lobbying. It’s a huge span for the president too! But some have special significance for me.

The presidency has brought many opportunities to brief politicians and civil servants, local, national and global. Apart from the many private meetings at home and abroad, the stand-out moment was perhaps at the last Stirling Prize ceremony, on prime-time TV with a reported 10 million viewers, impressing upon secretary of state James ­Brokenshire the industry’s hopes and expectations for a resolution of the Brexit impasse. We are still waiting but thanks to RIBA lobbying the qualifications of our EU colleagues will be recognised in the event of no deal.

The stand-out moment was at the last Stirling Prize ceremony, before 10 million TV viewers, impressing upon James Brokenshire industry hopes for a resolution of the Brexit impasse

In last month’s column, I set out my concern to champion diversity in the profession and I’m delighted that Femi Oresanya, chair of our expert group on equality, is guiding a comprehensive package of activity to improve diversity, including social mobility, in the profession. Given my own specialism is housing and urbanism, it’s great that the RIBA is now working with the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Chartered Institute of Housing and Local Government Association to support five towns and cities with placemaking – with Future Place, a project to support skills and capacity. The Quality Tracker developed with the Chartered Institute of Building and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to respond to past president Steven Hodder’s 2016 Client Survey should help overcome the worst procurement ills (design and build especially) by sustaining the ‘golden thread’ of accountability for performance, as we continue to lobby for a POE requirement for all government funded projects.

International meetings prompted me to instigate five principles designed to reinforce the profession’s compact with society, covering increasing diversity, research, the public interest first, managing risk, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We have extended this commitment to other institutes around the world and will be comparing notes on our respective efforts as things progress. On that front, I’m pleased the Institute has accepted in full the recommendations of our own Sustainable Development and Ethical Commission and put in place new Codes of Conduct and Practice.

Some changes must wait until  Alan Jones’ presidency to really gain traction. But I have every confidence that under him ­programmes such as the acceleration of education reform, and work to follow up on Council’s support for the declaration of a Climate Emergency will flourish.

This is an extraordinary time for the institute and its members. As I return to the back benches, I hope you will join me in supporting the organisation to make the most of these circumstances – unique in the 185 year history of the Institute.