On 9 July, Beale & Co were delighted to host its latest Architects' Roundtable for professionals in the industry. In light of the current circumstances, the roundtable was held virtually.

The roundtable provided an opportunity for architects to discuss the key issues that are currently affecting the industry and to debate the challenges they face now and in the future.

The roundtable covered a range of topics including:

  • COVID-19 and returning to work
  • The Hackitt Review and combustibility issues including the RICS EWS-1 form
  • Professional indemnity insurance market and claims (led by Paul Berg of Griffiths and Armour)
  • Future-proofing your practice, including Employee Ownership Trusts, succession planning and other options
  • The impact of Brexit

A summary of the discussions is provided below. A further roundtable will be arranged in the next few months to build on these discussions and to explore new issues.

1. COVID-19: Returning to work

The roundtable enabled the attendees to share their own experiences of how COVID-19 had affected their businesses. Discussions then centred on the attendees' plans to return to the office as lockdown restrictions ease.

The attendees discussed the advantages and disadvantages they had experienced during the transition to remote working. The general consensus was there had been an acceleration in firms' technological development, which had led to further advantages, such as staff being able to spend more time with families, carbon footprints being reduced and increased productivity due to time saved commuting.

It was evident that remote working had not come without its challenges for attendees, with many expressing concerns over the impact the pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on training and supervision of trainees.

The question was raised in relation to the extent architects will continue to work remotely as the lockdown eases. The attendees shared their views on target dates for opening up their offices and discussed methods to facilitate social distancing policies, with commuting to the office being identified as a key concern.

The impact the pandemic has had to on-site inspections in the construction industry was also discussed. Attendees shared their experiences and explained the adjustments architects had made, including virtual inspections.

The discussion on COVID-19 concluded with a review of the position contractually for architects, including a consideration of the provisions required to protect architects from the continuing effect of COVID-19 and from the possibility of other pandemics arising in the future (with reference to the recent CLC guidance on contractual behaviour).

2. Hackitt Review and Combustibility Issues

The impact of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Hackitt Report and the Government's legislative reaction was discussed. An analysis of the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill was provided, with a key focus on how these proposed legislative changes will impact architects.

As well as the legislative changes, the market's reaction to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the impact this will have on architects was discussed. It was noted that there are clear concerns in relation to combustibility in the market, which has led to increasing risks being imposed on architects including through the introduction of the RICS EWS-1 form.

The impact of the EWS-1 form was debated at the roundtable, with attendees sharing the experiences they have had so far with the new form. It was agreed that the EWS-1 form was onerous and imposed additional risks on the consultant entering into it. This is a particular concern when insurers are increasingly reviewing their position in relation to coverage for combustibility issues.

3. Professional Indemnity Insurance Market and Claims

A useful update was provided on the challenges currently being experienced in the PI market, with the value of claims being a key concern for insurers. Additionally, the recent events in relation to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has led to combustibility being a key focus for PI insurers.

The following two markets in the PI industry were discussed:

  1. Architects who are insured with insurers who remain active, and the difficulties presented by renewals; and
  2. Architects who have to find new insurers, and the difficulties presented by policy exclusions and a reluctance from insurers to add risk to their portfolios.

The new policy exclusions being seen in the PI market were also debated between the attendees, with particular focus on how issues such as combustibility and COVID-19 will affect the PI market. ACyber security is a particular focus due to companies being forced to work remotely and the impact this will have on cyber insurance policies.

4. Future proofing your practice

The attendees reviewed the potential future proofing steps that could be taken given the current market conditions.

The impact that COVID-19 would have on businesses future plans was reviewed. Additionally, the attendees looked at how the shift towards remote working could affect how their businesses are structured moving forward.

The attendees noted that in times where market conditions are tested, it allows leaders to emerge. There is no guide for how businesses should work through these uncertain times, which presents an opportunity for firms to be proactive and take the lead.

5. Impact of Brexit to date and in the event of a no deal scenario

There is significant uncertainty as to the impact of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020. In particular, it was noted how the construction industry relies heavily on work being sourced from within the EU. The attendees discussed how they anticipated employees from the EU would be affected and how the creation of the remote workforce may be utilised by firms to cope with the Brexit impact.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.