The genie is out of the bottle. The cat is out of the bag. Pandora’s box is open. RICS can no longer avoid its day of reckoning.
Yet as Property Week went to press ahead of the governing council meeting yesterday to vote on an independent review, the head honchos were, perversely, maintaining near radio silence.
Since RICS issued a brief statement last Friday that it was ‘revisiting the need for an independent review’, Property Week has tried to engage with them. No joy. Senior members of the property industry have tried to engage. In some cases, no joy there either. One heavyweight informed us ruefully that he’d contacted one of the top brass but not heard back and that when another finally responded, they had been “dismissive”. The perception seems to persist at RICS that this will all eventually blow over.
It won’t. Feelings among RICS members are running too high, as the huge number of people chatting on social media and reading our coverage attests. While allowances can perhaps be made this week for staying schtum until after the governing council meeting, any goodwill that remains will soon evaporate if the stonewalling continues. This situation has gone on for too long. Members want answers, and they want them now.
They deserve them now. Lest we forget, while some of the details have only recently emerged, this whole sorry affair has been rumbling on behind closed doors for more than two years, ever since that fateful BDO audit and the apparent decision to “suppress” what many now understandably assume must be incendiary findings.
Little new has come to light about those findings since The Sunday Times reported in December that the audit had found RICS was potentially exposed to “unidentifiable fraud, misappropriation of funds and misreporting of financial performance”. But these findings alone are deeply concerning, and members will not just want assurances that the appropriate remedies have been put in place, they will want to hear exactly what those remedies are.
Questions will also, no doubt, be asked about the mortgage on its Parliament Square HQ (a three-year revolving credit facility with its bank) and whether it points to financial difficulties beyond the usual cashflow problems and unique challenges posed by Covid.
In being at best elusive, at worst evasive, RICS has opened itself up to a barrage of wider criticism. Members are not just questioning their fees but the value of those once all-important letters after their names. They are accusing RICS of taking its eye off the British ball in doggedly pursuing internationalism. They are asking why they are being ignored.
One member sums up the general frustration thus: “Culturally, they have lost focus and the members need them to get back to the grass roots. They need to listen and remember what they are there for.”
The hope as Property Week went to press was that the independent review would get the green light and someone of Sir Peter Bottomley’s calibre would chair it. The fear was that if it does go ahead, it will be independent in name only and the outcome will be self-serving.
Everyone agrees there needs to be a root-and-branch review. Yet, as one senior industry source stresses: “There is a willingness for RICS to succeed. This is not a witch hunt for them to fail.” Over to you, RICS.