Business leader interview: Gail Hunter, RICS
Gail Hunter is Regional Director, Scotland, of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Here, she talks about the organisation’s worldwide role and how the make up of the profession is changing
Hello Gail. Can you tell us a bit more about the role of RICS?
RICS is a global professional body for chartered surveyors. We promote and enforce the highest international standards in the valuation, management and development of land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. We protect the interests of the public and work across government level to deliver a single international standard. Our aim is to support a safe environment and vibrant marketplace that benefits all. Our professionals contribute to everyone’s lives, helping build cities, roads, transport systems, shopping malls, sports stadia and much more.
How do you enforce standards?
We accredit approximately 125,000 trainees and professionals across the world. Every registered individual or firm is subject to our quality assurance, which means they must abide by our codes of conduct – there’s one for individual members and one for firms. If anyone contravenes these codes, our regulations come into effect. For some people, having the RICS qualification gives them a licence to work. Our ultimate sanction is expulsion, so people can lose their livelihood in the most extreme cases. We expect our members to work to the highest ethical standards and they must demonstrate compliance to our annual continuing professional development guidelines – a minimum of 20 hours every year, 10 of which must be formal and relevant to the job they are doing.
What are the daily challenges you face, as an organisation and in your role?
The organisation’s challenges revolve around the everyday effects of legislation and working practices. Because we’re a global organisation we must keep up with what’s happening around the world, not just in the UK. In Scotland, a particular challenge is making sure that guidance, practice or policy notes that come from our headquarters in London are relevant and applicable north of the border. It’s sometimes difficult to make sure the professionals who operate up here are fully engaged in everything we do. Like many sectors, one of our challenges is skills shortages. It’s high on our list of priorities and something we are addressing – RICS has a dedicated Future Talent Team who work closely with our partner universities and do the same with schools and colleges.
So how do certain things differ in Scotland to south of the border and further beyond?
Scotland’s rules and regulations are different in many areas, from planning law to buying and selling property. When Scotland introduced the home report in 2008, RICS was brought in at the start and our expertise helped shape the product. The purpose was to make a thorough assessment of the property available to potential purchasers. It’s been a real success and we’re keen to see it introduced in the other home nations. Some of our Scottish-based members work down south and some members based in England practise in Scotland. We try to make sure members have a working knowledge of the different legislation in each country.
How has your industry changed? And where do you see it heading?
We’ve seen government and parliament gain an appreciation of the expertise property professionals bring to discussions around the built environment. That’s great for us as an organisation. On the residential side, new landlord and property factors legislation comes into effect in Scotland from next year. We believe this is a positive step and will help deter rogue landlords. It will also help improve standards in the sector, and lead to an increase in customer satisfaction and trust between tenants and landlords. In other change, we’re seeing a shift from chartered surveying being a male dominated profession. RICS is passionate about diversity and inclusion and it was good to see that last year the number of women undertaking ‘assessment of professional competence’ enrolment (an indication of people coming into the profession) go from 11 per cent of the total to 24 per cent.
When it comes to things like Home Reports, how can surveyors better promote the importance of using properly qualified electricians?
With everything we do, safety is paramount. Having professionals deliver those services is essential. There are rogues in any profession and while RICS can’t recommend specific individuals or firms we will always advocate that people use suitably qualified professionals, whatever job they’re doing.
How does RICS work with the electrical sector?
There are lots of indirect links between the two and many areas where the professions collaborate – an obvious one would be around building standards. Similarly, RICS professionals with the right knowledge and experience often provide presentations at SELECT training and CPD events. Continued collaboration will bring more benefits and we aim to increase communication with SELECT and its members wherever and whenever we can.
And what about SELECT?
We’ve had a professional relationship with SELECT for many years. RICS is always keen to work with like-minded organisations. We have a lot in common – we protect public interest, promote our own industry standards and make sure our industries are represented when it comes to activity at government or local authority level. On a personal note, Newell McGuiness, managing director of SELECT, often sits on our dispute resolution panels. He provides an impartial, expert and knowledgeable voice.
Finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your industry, what would it be?
I’d like to see more emphasis on the benefits that surveyors’ professionalism brings and greater recognition that the right standards can have a fantastic effect on a project’s efficiency and costs. Also, it would be great to see more understanding of what a chartered surveyor does. It’s a really diverse profession. We have people involved in everything from measuring on the seabed to using a drone to carry out their work.