Accountability and Transparency
ARB has a responsibility to members of the public, architects and Parliament to be transparent and accountable in its business operations.
ARB’s Registrar and Chief Executive, Karen Holmes, is also the ARB’s designated Accounting Officer. She is responsible for the day–to-day management of the office, and ensuring that her responsibilities under the Act, as Accounting Officer (a role required by the DCLG), are delivered. In addition to this, Karen is also responsible for the safeguarding and handling of public funds. These responsibilities are set out in the Framework Agreement.
Every Accounting Officer is required to meet with representatives of the sponsoring government department on an annual basis; these meetings require accounting officers to demonstrate and evidence that they are fulfilling their duties appropriately, as well as proving opportunities to discuss any changes to the additional government expectations/new and/or additional expectations. These responsibilities were all successfully achieved in 2015.
In addition to the above, ARB has robust and transparent reporting mechanisms in place to ensure accountability at all levels within the organisation.
The Board is responsible for setting out the strategic direction of the organisation. It has decided on a set of priorities for the organisation for 2013-2016 and agrees a business plan to deliver on these. Members of the public can attend open sessions of our Board meetings, the details of which are available via our social media channels and our website. The minutes of these open sessions, along with all open session Board papers, are also published on our website. Board and committee members also undergo annual appraisals, where performance objectives are set each year.
Executive and Staff Team Accountability
The Board holds the executive and the staff to account by monitoring the delivery of the annual business plan. Prior to each Board Meeting the Board have a short session without the executive in accordance with principles of good governance. Members of the Operational Management Team, including the Registrar and Chief Executive, attend each of the five Board meetings which take place throughout the year. At each meeting the Board receives an operational activities report, which provides a cross-organisational update. It also receives written and verbal reports which detail the progress that has been made in relation to all areas of the business plan on a regular basis. Board members have the opportunity to raise queries and discuss the delivery of the Board’s objectives at their meetings.
The Staff team is fully committed to providing information which is timely, accessible and appropriate so that the Board can discharge its responsibilities effectively. Reports are provided to the Board on either an annual or biannual basis, which enable the Board to test and challenge progress against and achievement of all areas of the business plan. Throughout 2015, the Board received a series of reports which can be found in its open session board papers.
Whilst the majority of the Board’s business is undertaken in open session, there are occasions when the Board is obliged to discuss matters in private. The Board’s policy setting out what must be considered in confidential session can be found here.
Freedom of Information and Access to Data
In line with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, we make many of our documents public and publish them on our website. Our Publication Scheme can be viewed here. In the second half of 2015 we tested our commitment to transparency and undertook a review to ensure that our Publication Scheme continued to comply with the advice and guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office. The review also provided opportunities to identify where our work in this area could be improved and our transparency enhanced. We identified a number of areas where we were regularly publishing information through the open session Board papers, but these items had not been included within our Publication Scheme. We will therefore be updating our Publication Scheme to ensure that our published documents are more easily identifiable and accessible. We benchmark ourselves against others and, as a consequence, will be expanding on the information we regularly publish.
Complaints, feedback and consultations
ARB is committed to providing a high-quality, professional service to everyone who comes in to contact with us.
We have been collecting feedback via various channels from a wide range of service users which include new registrants who have used the online application facility; candidates who have sat the Prescribed Examination; those who have used the complaints process up until the Investigation Panel; those who have made formal complaints via the Board’s complaints procedure about our service; and schools of architecture.
Amongst the feedback we gathered in 2015, the information we received from those re-joining the Register and through our Customer Complaints Service was very helpful. We used it to feed in to the development of our Top 10 Tips Retention Fee email and other initiatives to facilitate the collection of the 2016 retention fee. The email was circulated to registrants setting out some helpful tips to assist with reminders to pay their annual retention fee payment on time. We also introduced a text reminder service to alert those who had not paid their fee that their payment was still outstanding a few days before the deadline.
We are fully committed to engaging with our stakeholders and regularly consult on the development of new policies or where we are making changes to existing policies. We use our social media channels, our website and e-Bulletin to publicise the consultations we undertake each year. In 2015, we additionally undertook a review of our consultation policy in order to refresh it and ensure it continued to represent good practice. The revised consultation policy can be found here.
As part of our commitment to ensuring we are delivering our responsibilities, we built upon and continued to develop a series of internal reviews which look at our compliance against the Board’s General Rules, the Framework Agreement and the Act. The reviews are intended to highlight any gaps in terms of our delivery and where we can make improvements. The details and outcomes of these reviews are provided to the Audit Committee, which discusses and raises queries about each of the reviews that have been undertaken. To date these reviews have confirmed that we are delivering our responsibilities. Notwithstanding this, we have highlighted several action points and areas where we could improve further and we will take these forward in 2016.
Both the Board and Staff have continued to work on improving our transparency. Examples of how we are continuing to achieve this include:
- Conducting the majority of Board business in open session; publishing the Board’s agenda, papers and minutes via our website;
- Producing timely, up-to-date information either annually or biannually about our key activities, trends and measuring these against our performance indicators;
- Publishing our annual business plan and reporting on the delivery and achievement of the objectives within the plan at the mid-year and the year-end points;
- Reviewing and republishing our Publication Scheme;
- Complying with Government expectations including the publication of all ARB payments over £500; publishing Board members’ and Registrar’s expenses; and
- Publishing Board members’ biographies and a Register of Interests.
The Financial Statements section of this report, which has been signed off by our auditors, contains a governance statement from Karen Holmes, our Accounting Officer, and can be found here. This sets out the Accounting Officer’s responsibilities in relation to the management and control of the operations of ARB and the efficient use of resources. It provides a succinct overview of key governance arrangements and sets out risks and control mechanisms.