RMJM architecture firm axes Edinburgh HQ

RMJM was behind the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood. Picture: PA
RMJM was behind the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood. Picture: PA
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SCOTTISH architecture firm RMJM is to scrap its Edinburgh headquarters and axe almost half of its staff north of the Border to focus on its international business.

Bosses at RMJM – which has been based in the capital since its foundation almost 60 years ago and was behind Scottish landmarks including the parliament building at Holyrood – said the firm does not regard itself as a Scottish company and it would significantly scale back its UK operations.

The troubled practice, which once counted disgraced Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin among its staff, is to move its Edinburgh design team to Glasgow and abandon its head office at Bell’s Brae as part of a plan to create a new global business called “RMJM International”.

RMJM has seen its headcount shrink from more than 1,200 in its heyday at the end of the last decade to just 300 today amid redundancies and walkouts ­following claims of unpaid wages throughout its global business.

Managing director Declan Thompson admitted the company is still behind with salary and redundancy payments, and claimed that neither chief executive Peter Morrison nor his father Sir Fraser Morrison, who bought the company ten years ago, had received a salary for more than 18 months.

Mr Thompson said RMJM was likely to retain an official registration in Scotland in name only – with the address listed at Companies House to be that of a small Edinburgh office which the company plans to rent, to house a small number of IT support staff.

“People always talk about RMJM being a Scottish firm and there are a lot of positive things about that, but we have never really seen ourselves as Scottish,” he told The Scotsman.

“Scottish roots, Scottish ownership – great. But we are an ­international practice. We didn’t see the Edinburgh heritage as an issue.”

He added: “The top company of the group will continue to be a Scottish-registered company, but from an operational point of view, it does not have to be ­Scottish.”

About 20 staff are set to lose their jobs as part of the move, leaving just 25 workers in Scotland – while a handful of RMJM’s Edinburgh design team will be transferred to its Glasgow base.

Earlier this year, the firm axed 40 jobs from its offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.

The new business will be run by Scot Harry Downie, who works from one of the company’s offices in the Middle East. The future of the Bell’s Brae building, which was designed and built by the practice in the 1980s and is owned by Sir Fraser Morrison, is under ­consideration.

“We are going to consolidate our operations in Europe and the Middle East under one leadership,” said Mr Thompson.

“The Middle East is doing well at the moment – not quite up to the levels it was before [the recession] – but it is buoyant. The UK doesn’t seem to be what we want to be doing at this time.”

He added: “I have always felt some dissatisfaction in the fact that we have two offices [in Edinburgh and Glasgow] 35 miles apart. We needed to make this decision and do it right and there can be no sacred cows in that.”

In a memo issued to staff on Thursday, Mr Morrison admitted that RMJM could no longer maintain as large a UK business.

“We have made no attempt to hide the difficulties we have had maintaining a Scottish business in the current market,” he said. “I believe this change will create much opportunity and enhance our offering to our clients in the Middle East and Europe.”