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FM Faculty Briefing No.6 - Uncertain times and unchartered waters for FM

15 September 2007

Michael Cant contemplates the current state of the FM market, and outlines challenges and opportunities the RICS FM Faculty is addressing at the present time

How quickly time marches on in the FM community. Record numbers of mergers and acquisitions over recent years; broad ranging growth in contract awards; increasing global reach, scale and value in PFI activities; double-digit increases in turnover and profits reported. How different this appears when compared to 15 or so years ago when we had the last major collapse of confidence in the trading markets. Whilst current stock markets are jittery about a number of fundamentals, including the mortgage/hedge and pension fund crisis, everyone needs their facilities managed, and it shouldn't affect us too much. Plain sailing - or we certainly hope so!

All of these and other debates currently taking place across the sector provide a rich backdrop to the activities being considered at all levels within the RICS at the present time. Property ownership and occupation act as the foundation upon which most economies reside. As the RICS' influence and responsibility extends across many parts of the globe, such stock market upheavals understandably have an immediate and major impact on our activities.

Roadmap
Notably, the RICS FM Faculty has to contribute to overall RICS policy through the development of our FM Educational Roadmap under the RICS' qualification and professional accreditation framework. This clearly supports the aspiring Chartered FM Surveyor. However the attainment of full RICS membership is not our only goal. We are increasing our involvement in encouraging all those on the route to becoming a Chartered Surveyor - whether ultimately they secure full chartered status or not.

Amongst other education-led initiatives, we have been working closely with Sheffield Hallam University in jointly developing an accredited roadmap for FM learning, education and training. Much has already been achieved by Sheffield Hallam, and the RICS FM Faculty is actively supporting their move to establish training and education available for FMs within the UK across the full spectrum of learning and personal development. We acknowledge that accreditation by the RICS is important to those wishing to offer education or training. Our work with Sheffield is based on their quest to offer a genuine professional route to an FM qualification, including Foundation and other degrees.

Professional Governance Another important issue is now emerging as part of the wider discussions in the FM sector, the RICS, and the FM Faculty. Determining a 'Governance' framework, and monitoring behaviour and professional practice of those involved on a day-to-day basis in the FM sector, is likely to be central to
our future credibility in the wider economy and society. Whilst in the fields of medicine, surveying, engineering (and other disciplines), they have codes of conduct and the controls associated with ensuring
compliance, FM does not. It is effectively unregulated. Whether as an employee or as one of the FM-related organisations, we do not have the framework to deal effectively with those that abuse in the expectation of 'professional' conduct.

Sharp practice is likely to be in evidence in FM as much as in any other commercial enterprise. But in an emerging sector looking to establish itself, it can taint or dampen the quest to achieving credibility, acceptance and long term existence. In recent months increasing concerns are being noted in the behaviour of FM contractors and suppliers. Those acting as FM Managing Agents, Managing Contractors or simply undertaking FM contracts on behalf of their clients are not bound by anything further than (at best) a
'contract'. Many do not have even that, depending on the expert contractor to advise them in good faith.

But many clients have already been divested of their internal FM experts, or perhaps have only recently become involved in the process of 'outsourcing' their FM services. The skills may not be available. In the same way as a doctor or surgeon has a duty of care beyond 'the contract', so the FM supplier should fall under a system of governance. Managing Agents have a particularly heavy responsibility, as they are (almost always) acting in a client representative role through the devolution of not only contractual responsibility, but technical knowledge, to them. To pull the wool over the client's eyes may in these cases
be relatively easy - even in the late stages of contract negotiation.

A governance framework for FM needs to emerge to ensure the sector meets and maintains credibility in the wider context. Who protects the client in the FM sector? Or is it truly a case of caveat emptor?

The RICS has strict compliance requirements, and these include taking action should a member fail to meet its strict requirements and obligations. This goes far beyond attending training courses, joining a
'membership club', undertaking CPD or attending conferences. The RICS FM Faculty is taking this issue up as it is central to the professional credibility of those that operate in the sector.

....Michael Cant is Vice-Chair RICS FM Faculty, member of Action FM and Founding Director of Larch Consulting. He is happy to discuss these issues further via email (mike@larch.co.uk).


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