Thursday 23 July 2009

'Chill wind of economic reality' - reaction of architects

Madam, – The Tánaiste Mary Coughlan shows a worrying disconnect with reality when she referred to “architects” as being a sector which had yet to feel the “chill winds of economic reality” (Front page, July 21st). As has been widely reported, more than 40 per cent of architects have been made redundant. The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland has a significant number of members on Job Seeker’s Allowance or paying reduced charges because of financial hardship.

Many architects in employment have experienced pay cuts and three-day weeks.

How chilly does it have to get to reach the Tánaiste’s attention?

For public sector projects the Tánaiste should be aware that architectural services are procured on a competitive basis in accordance with EU and Department of Finance procedures. She must also be aware that architects don’t have recommended, mandatory or minimum fee scales. On the Competition Authority Report, I would expect the Tánaiste or her officials to have read the report or at least the executive summary before making a public statement,because the report was very clear: “the Competition Authority has only a small number of concerns about how the architectural profession operates in Ireland. Unlike some other professions reviewed by the Competition Authority, architects are not restricted by layers of unjustified or disproportionate restrictions or competition. Competition seems to be working well for consumers of architectural services and the economy as a whole”.

The Tánaiste might be better employed in examining the widespread evasion by some Government departments and State bodies generally of prompt payment legislation and why her recent announcement of a 15-days payment period by Government was greeted by incredulity among architects.

If the Tánaiste’s address is indicative of the level of research and evidence based policy in her department on matters of public record, as we face an unprecedented economic crisis, then it won’t just be architects who are made redundant but the entire country. – Yours, etc,

Royal Institute of the
Architects of Ireland,
Merrion Square,
Dublin 2.

Madam, – I write in relation to the extraordinary comments attributed to the Tánaiste regarding the “economic conceit” of certain professions during this time of unprecedented economic crisis. I am particularly concerned about Mary Coughlan’s ill-informed reference to architects and engineers in the context of failing to face up to economic and competitive reality. In her role as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I would have expected even the most basic level of awareness of how these and other construction industry professions have been decimated over the last 12 months and the arid landscape that still lies ahead in this sector.

As a director of an architectural and project management company which is enduring the “chill winds of economic reality” during this Government’s watch, our business has reduced from a peak of 81 employees in August 2008 to 27 staff in July 2009. Remaining staff have accepted pay cuts of 30 per cent and short-term working, as a further measure to address this downward spiral. Our situation is far from unique in the construction sector, with other solid companies forced out of business due to the “chill wind”.

It is disappointing that the best efforts of Ms Coughlan’s department and associate agencies such as Enterprise Ireland are undermined by such poorly judged comments and suggest that in the best interests of the economy it is time for the Minister to face up to her own chill wind of reality. – Yours, etc,

Shrewsbury Lawn,
Dublin 18.

Madam, – In response to the Tánaiste’s references to the architectural profession in Ireland, I write on behalf of one of the oldest architectural practices in Ireland, which was founded in 1947 by my late father-in-law, John Thompson, over 60 years ago.

We are currently a third-generation practice, which, over the years has employed hundreds of people in Limerick, Dublin and for a short time in Cork. We have seen several “downturns” in the market and have managed to survive by dint of hard work and commitment to both our staff and clients.

Our numbers have gone, in a 12-month period, from 29 people employed in 2008 to 12 today – the lowest number of employees in the company’s history. All the current staff are on a three-week on/one week off (since February of this year) in an attempt to save those remaining jobs.

The three directors have all taken a pay cut of up to 25 per cent even though all are continuing to work extremely long hours. We are doing our best to try to save the jobs and the firm in the face of unbelievable odds.

It is particularly galling that at such a time the Tánaiste sees fit to make comments such as those enunciated at the MacGill Summer School. I refer to an apparent lack of knowledge of the Competition Authority’s comments specifically relating to the architectural profession.

I beg to differ from the Tánaiste’s idea that we have “yet to feel the chill winds of economic reality”. She might prefer that we closed our doors ­ (the far easier option) and put yet another 12 people our of work? – Yours, etc,

Thompsons Architects +

Madam, – With regard to the Tánaiste’s comments referring to architects, among other professions, as being yet to feel “the chill winds of economic reality”, I would like to ask what planet is she living on? As a young architect in Dublin, I find that the majority of my fellow architects are out of work, have been for several months, and have little or no prospect of finding employment in this State or any other any time soon. I consider myself extremely lucky to still be employed, albeit on a part-time basis.

Is the Tánaiste so out of touch that she is not aware of this? Or does she not consider this to be a “chill wind“? – Yours, etc,

Cambridge Terrace,
York Road,
Dun Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.

Madam, – I was surprised to see that the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, believes that architects and engineers have yet to feel the “chill winds of economic reality”. The Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland estimated the unemployment rate among architects at over 40 per cent last December. In the time since this estimate the situation has deteriorated severely. Several high profile architectural practices have gone into examinership and liquidation. The majority of those architects that have kept their jobs have taken pay cuts ranging from 10 per cent to 40 per cent, are working a three-day week or are taking regular unpaid leave. Fee bidding has been commonplace among architecture practices since the abandonment of recommended fee scales by the RIAI in the early 1990s, and is currently at a level that is approximately one tenth that believed to be the case by the Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe ( Irish Times September 25th, 2008).

If those charged with steering the economy through this current crisis are so spectacularly out of touch with the reality of the current economic situation, it is proof positive that the only area where the “chill winds” have yet to be felt is within the cocooned environment of Leinster House. – Yours, etc,

The Coombe,
Dublin 8.

Madam, – The reference by the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan at the MacGill Summer School that architects and engineers have to feel the “chill wind of economic reality” is simply astonishing .

Given that architects and engineers submit the vast majority of planning applications to planning authorities and these planning authorities in turn are experiencing a drop of some 50 per cent in the receipt of applications, the evidence is manifestly clear that it is the Tánaiste who is not in touch with reality.

Notably, Minister for Environment John Gormley has recognised the fall off in planning applications and has requested Bord Pleanála to take on underused planning authority staff. Back to reality, Tánaiste! – Yours, etc,

Architect and Planning
Richview Villas,
Dublin 14.

Madam, – I cannot help but smile at the irony of our Tánaiste Mary Coughlan’s call on the professions to reduce our fees. This coming from a Government whose members are grossly overpaid and whose leader is paid more than the president of the US – not to mention unvouched expenses and Ministerial pensions paid to sitting TDs.

If this is not “economic conceit”, please tell me what is? – Yours, etc,

Fair Street,
Co Louth.
Irish Times

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