Coronavirus: How is the RIBA working with the government?
The RIBA is working hard to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and provide our members with the necessary information, guidance and support. A key part of this is working with the government to represent the profession during this unprecedented time.
We have strong relationships with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). We are communicating with these departments on a daily basis, engaging in weekly calls with key Ministers at BEIS and DCMS, and writing to the relevant Cabinet Members to ensure the concerns and needs of the profession are represented and heard.
See below for more information on some of the key developments surrounding our engagement with so far. We will be updating this page regularly to keep our members informed of political developments.
Find out what the team has been up to since our last update in this video from Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth:
14 May 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
This week began with Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlining the government’s proposals to ease lockdown pressures across England. In the days following, several announcements were made to encourage people to return to work safely.
The UK Government and Construction Leadership Council both published guidance for the construction industry, the former informed by RIBA experts who have been participating in regular calls with the Department for Business (BEIS). After the guidance was published, we hosted a RIBA member-government roundtable, giving several members the opportunity to offer their feedback directly. Later in the week, we held another roundtable which focused on the impact of coronavirus on exporting services. This brought together RIBA members with a range of government departments including; the Department for International Trade (DIT), BEIS and the Department for Culture (DCMS).
This week the Chancellor confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme would be extended until October (with further details around the flexibility of the scheme to be announced later this month), and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme officially opened for applications. This level of government support remains unprecedented, but we’re aware that not all jobs and incomes are protected. We will continue to encourage the government to extend the Job Retention Scheme to part-time workers, and liaise with the Treasury Select Committee about gaps in support for the self-employed.
A number of significant planning system updates were also announced this week. The Ministry for Housing (MHCLG) confirmed steps to restart the housing market in England, including temporary changes to make it easier to operate the planning system during this difficult time. Their plans include moving to digital inquiries, hearings, meetings and other events; exploring options to ensure online inspection of documents becomes a default position across all planning regimes; and expanding the powers of local planning authorities to take alternative steps to publicise planning applications if they cannot discharge the specific requirements for site notices, neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity. We have been lobbying the government to introduce flexible measures to ensure the planning process continues to operate during this time and these temporary changes should help to keep business and development flowing.
Finally, as part of our work to advocate the skills and expertise of the profession, RIBA Chief Executive Alan Vallance wrote to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to outline the role architects must play in enabling the safe return to school, referencing the RIBA’s Better Spaces for Learning report.
7 May 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
As we await an announcement from the Prime Minister on plans to ease the UK lockdown and get the economy back up and running – our team has been busy speaking to members about the how the sector might return to the new ‘normal’ and how the government can help to mitigate an elongated economic recovery.
This week, we launched our second coronavirus survey after the success of our first which received over 1,000 responses and provided us with a rich set of statistics and evidence to share with policy makers and external stakeholders.
This survey focuses on current government income support schemes – which we know fall short of what’s required – and asks questions about their effectiveness and the impact they have had on you or your business. The information gained will help us to make sure we’re lobbying for the right kind of additional support, so I urge all members to take part.
In a call with Caroline Dineage MP and Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), we reiterated issues with gaps in current support schemes, especially for freelancers in the creative industries who are suffering particularly due to a lack of work.
We also organised a virtual meeting this week which saw RIBA members from across England and Wales discuss their most immediate challenges. Civil servants from three government departments joined the call and answered questions about a range of issues including support packages, new rules around workplace safety and the future role of architects. This event is part of an ongoing series of discussions between RIBA members and civil servants.
In Wales, our RSAW team wrote to Julie James AM, Minster for Housing and Local Government in the Welsh Parliament this week to highlight several specific concerns for Welsh members. The letter seeks to encourage a gradual re-opening of construction sites within the parameters of health, safety and well-being as soon as possible and asked Parliament to consider a VAT rebate fund for home repairs and maintenance, and energy efficient improvements.
I want to assure members that we are working hard on their behalf – liaising with policy makers daily to ensure the concerns of the sector are heard and actioned.
Please take a few minutes to fill out our latest survey. The more information we have about the challenges you are facing, the better we can advocate on your behalf.
30 April 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
This week's activity included a virtual roundtable with RIBA corporate members and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to find out more about the particular challenges faced. Problems ranged from managing to secure payments to returning to work on site, to more long-term worries about clients lacking confidence to invest.
News of government's Bounce Back Loan Scheme announced this week and due to launch on Monday 4 May was also welcome. Findings from our first survey suggested that small practices have been worst hit, with more than 60% experiencing fewer new business enquiries, decreased workloads and decreased cash flow. Hopefully many can now take advantage of this 100% government-backed scheme.
This week we also wrote to Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride MP about the huge numbers of architects who remain ineligible for any income support and offered a potential solution to the problem. This was also outlined in our response to the Business Select Committee’s parliamentary inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers.
Finally, our second survey on the impact of coronavirus is now live.
This survey focuses on the government's current support schemes and asks questions about their effectiveness and impact they have had on you or your business. The more information we have, the better we can advocate on your behalf - so we urge you to take part.
23 April 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
In a week where we saw the UK’s lockdown extended for another three weeks and the government’s Job Retention Scheme open for applications, we have been focusing on the need to expand financial support schemes and looking at ways in which the government can support the profession as we emerge on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
On Tuesday, RIBA CEO Alan Vallance took part in a call with the Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board (CITIB) as part of our work with the Creative Industries Council. Here they discussed short and medium term government interventions that would help kick-start trade within the sector.
In our weekly call with Minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zawahi MP, we also reiterated the case to expand current income support packages. While it was great to see the Job Retention Scheme launch on Monday, huge swathes of recently recruited and self-employed workers remain unqualified for any financial support, and if workloads continue to decrease as expected, income support will be vital for the survival of the sector.
This week we have also been supporting the Creative Industries Federation campaign #OurWorldWithout, calling on government to provide urgent funding to help creative organisations and professionals who are facing particularly challenging times. Their recent survey revealed that 1 in 7 creative organisations believe they can last only until the end of April on existing financial reserves, and only half think their reserves will last beyond June. Find out more about the campaign and how to support it.
We will continue to work to inform the government of the concerns and needs of architects during this time and encourage members to contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
16 April 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
Earlier this week we wrote to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to highlight the findings of our COVID-19 member survey. We also emphasised the need for crucial policy changes to ensure the profession receives the support it needs during this unprecedented time. Visit the following pages for analysis of the survey findings:
- RIBA COVID-19 survey: executive summary
- What's the bigger picture and what lies ahead?
- RIBA Journal: What is COVID-19 doing to your business?
We wrote to the Chancellor last month outlining our key policy asks to support and protect the profession throughout this difficult time. We asked the government to deliver in three main areas: preserving cash flow, maintaining the operation of the planning and development control systems and ensuring that construction projects continue in a safe way.
While some of the RIBA’s key asks have since been implemented, such as the immediate deferral of VAT and business rate payments, our survey findings emphasised the urgent need for our wider policy asks to be considered. We still need clarity on measures for those who are currently not eligible for support.
We will continue to work to inform the government of the concerns and needs of the profession during this time. We encourage members to contact us by emailing email@example.com.
1 April 2020: update from RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth
Since our CEO Alan Vallance gave an update last week (see below), the RIBA’s Policy and Public Affairs team have been busy liaising with MPs and Civil Servants on a daily basis, raising member concerns and calling for necessary support.
On 25 March Alan Vallance took part in a call with John Whittingdale MP, Minister for Media and Data at DCMS, and on 26 March I joined a call with Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Alok Sharma MP. In both calls the government emphasised their commitment to supporting businesses through these unprecedented times.
Later that afternoon, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government’s new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, providing financial support for 95% UK self-employed workers. Once up and running, the scheme will provide much needed funds to compensate those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but not all self-employed workers are eligible to apply. We are therefore calling on the government to consider ways to support those who do not fit the current criteria such as some smaller, newer architecture practices. Read more about the scheme.
On 27 March we wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma MP, outlining how the skills of architects can be used to help create urgently needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We outlined how some architecture practices have the skills, software and machinery (3D printing /rapid prototyping) to produce PPE, and we hope BEIS will take up our offer of support and expertise. Read more on this.
On 31 March I took part in a call with the Treasury team who are working on the employment support package and help for the self-employed. Along with other representatives from the creative industries we highlighted the need for support to arrive faster and the challenge faced by those who don’t currently qualify for support. We also made it clear that for the package to be effective, it needed to be extended to cover other groups including those paid through dividends rather than salaries.
In a call on 1 April with Caroline Dinenage MP (Minister of State for Digital and Culture at DCMS) and John Whittingdale MP, it was clear that the message about both the urgency of the situation and the need for the support schemes to be extended was getting through. Because some of the barriers are practical (tax returns currently don’t distinguish between dividends from employment and dividends from investments) they will take time to resolve and may require additional information to be submitted. We will continue to update our members on these developments.
Thank you to members who shared their concerns with us through our first COVID-19 survey. This closed on 31 March and we will be publishing the findings shortly. Until we get our next survey up and running, we encourage members to contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The more information we have about the issues you are facing, the better we can advocate on your behalf.
24 March 2020: note from RIBA CEO, Alan Vallance
The RIBA has been working hard to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and quickly provide our members with the necessary guidance and support. A key part of this support is working with government to represent the architecture profession during this very unsettling and unpredictable time. I wanted to update you on some of the work that we have been doing in this area.
Last week, I wrote to both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to outline some of the key concerns that members are currently facing.
In our letters, we ask Government to address cash flow concerns and maintain the operation of the planning and development control systems. Some of our proposals, including VAT deferment, were included in the latest package of support announced by the Chancellor. Read more on this.
We are communicating with the key government departments on a daily basis. The RIBA has excellent relationships with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). We will continue to work with these departments to ensure the concerns of our members are heard, understood and acted upon.
Thank you to those who have already reached out to us through our info centre (email@example.com) and completed our survey. The more information we have about the issues you are facing, the better we can advocate on your behalf.
Finally, please do visit our COVID-19 hub, which provides a suite of resources and information for members. It includes what we are doing with government, but also practical advice: from guidance on practice resilience and remote working, to a checklist of considerations for staff; the content is wide-ranging and regularly updated.