Earlier this week we shared some of the most immediate concerns of architects in our response to the Business Select Committee's parliamentary inquiry on the impact of coronavirus.
This is one of several ways through which we have been informing policy makers about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on architects and ensuring the voice of the profession is heard.
The RIBA has made clear that architecture is particularly susceptible to economic uncertainty and recession, due to the project-based nature of construction, and the fact that most architecture practices are small and medium-sized enterprises.
While support such as the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme are welcome, as things currently stand, a proportion of the sector remains ineligible for any income support because they either pay themselves through dividends, their businesses are relatively ‘new’, or they earn above the current £50,000 threshold.
The government must therefore go further to support and protect the profession, and in our response to this inquiry we mapped out six policy recommendations – steps that can be taken by right now – to help architects get through the coming weeks and months.
We call on the government to:
- Expand current support packages to cover those who receive their income through dividends and not PAYE. A major barrier to support for these practices is the lack of accurate records within the Treasury that can be automatically used to facilitate payments. The RIBA therefore recommend the introduction of a support package based on the data held by HMRC on corporation tax receipts, which could be used as the basis for emergency support. Through the information included on the CT600 form, the government should already have data on the tax paid by a business in previous years. We also wrote to Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride MP this week to highlight this solution.
- Alleviate financial pressures on practices through faster payment terms and direct payments to subcontractors on public contracts as a client.
- Support a low or no cost factoring facility for private contracts to help stabilise wider uncertainty in the market.
- Increase capital allowances to enable companies to invest immediately in the technology required to facilitate a transition from office to home working.
- Provide support for staff and employers affected by short-term cashflow issues, including short-time workers. A fifth of our survey respondents said that they have had a reduction to their working hours.
- Ensure the planning and development control process remains operable, to ensure that the sector can continue to work on the projects that are still going ahead. This also means providing local authorities with additional support and flexibility to balance their day-to-day duties with higher demand for their services elsewhere.
Temporary changes to the planning process will need to be made to relieve growing pressures on local authorities, and uphold opportunities for the construction industry during this period of uncertainty:
- A temporary relaxation of time limits for planning applications to allow local authorities to prioritise cases to reflect health and safety considerations and the nature of requests.
- The introduction of waivers to allow the deferral of requirements for information if planning officers judge a request to be of low or no impact would speed up the planning process, giving planning officers more capacity to focus on requests of higher impact.
We will continue to work closely with the policy makers to represent the needs of our members and push for the right support for our sector.
Our first survey of the profession received over 1,000 responses, and provided us with a rich set of statistics, anecdotal evidence and case studies to share with external stakeholders. We have now launched a second survey and encourage all architects to take part to share their views and experiences.
The more information we have about the issues you are facing, the better we can advocate on your behalf.