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Raise fees or face crisis, IStructE warns consultants


STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS must raise their fees to avoid a looming crisis in the profession, the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) warned this week.

Continued low margins in the industry are leaving companies unable to properly resource projects and recruit staff, and this is leading to a decline in quality of staff and designs, the IStructE said.

The fears have prompted the IStructE to produce new guidance on a fee structure for the industry, following a raft of complaints from its members that fees on some jobs have fallen from a standard 3.5% to as low at 1.2% in 'extreme' cases.

New guidance on fees is expected to be published on IStructE's website this autumn according to IStructE chief executive Keith Eaton. 'It will not only help our members but also inform clients what services are provided for so that everybody understands and knows what's included, ' he said.

Implementation of a 'fee scale' is illegal under competition law. The OFT censured the Royal Institution of British Architects in 2001 for publishing a guide that was interpreted as a 'fee scale'.

However, Eaton said the IStructE had provisional agreement from the Office of Fair Trading to publish the guide on the express basis that it will not be a 'fee scale' for current and future work.

Instead it will simply show 'historical' information on what fees have been charged for particular types of work and what services would be included.

'The OFT has told us that we can make public historical information on charge out rates, ' Eaton told NCE.

Many structural engineering consultants contacted this week by NCE welcomed publication of the guide. Design and business executive at consultant Bianchi Morley, Carol Fines, said: 'It can only be a positive thing. Companies are taking on work at ridiculously low discounts and then can't afford to resource them properly.' Director of Edge Consulting Engineers Tony Bailey added: 'It would be helpful. There needs to be a debate because low fees are going to make it more diffi ult for consultants to obtain good staff.' But support was not universal.

Whitbybird founding partner Mark Whitby told NCE the proposed guide could cause embarrassment and misunderstanding between consultants and clients and wasn't necessary.

'I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who argue about margins being driven down, ' he said. 'If you don't like the fee, you shouldn't do the job.' Scott Wilson director Mark Holden also pointed out that it would be very difficult for IStructE to come up with meaningful data about generic fee levels because each project is so different.

'They will nd it very difficult to be very prescriptive about rates, ' he said.

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