The change in political emphasis brought in by the coalition government has seen significant changes in this field with a continuing emphasis on achieving efficiency. Performance reviews of some of the national regulators have highlighted further room for improvement with a focus on better complaints handling. The challenge for all regulators in the year ahead will be to effectively deliver whilst making the changes to management and culture that will help address their operational weaknesses.
Alongside the drive to streamline, there has also been a palpable and increasing demand within the body public for more accountability. This may translate into a widening of the regulatory net amongst the professions: from healthcare workers to the press to bankers. Most visibly, with the actions of the press and private investigators being scrutinised in the very public forum of the Leveson inquiry, it is likely that 2013 will see further regulatory reform for these sectors.
Healthcare regulators have continued to be analysed on whether they are delivering fit-for-purpose regulatory regimes.
The Law Commission is due to prepare a draft bill ready for early 2014 providing a single legal framework for all healthcare regulators in England and Wales, creating a consistent and unified approach.
Meanwhile the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has provided for the transfer of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence’s (CHRE) responsibilities to a new Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. The Act has also provided for the transfer of the regulation of social workers from the General Social Care Council to the newly named Health and Care Professions Council.
Following the delivery of the CHRE’s report into the Nursing and Midwifery Council in July 2012, a new interim chair, Mark Addison, has been appointed to ensure the organisation is an efficient and effective guardian of public safety and professional standards. Over at the General Medical Council (GMC), the adjudicatory function has been separated from complaints and investigation with the inception of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service.
This year we have seen regulators becoming more aware of the need to ensure that their members are being given the support they require to operate robustly but still within professional boundaries. To that end the GMC has issued revised guidance on child protection and is also consulting on new draft guidance to set out what is expected from doctors when using social media.
In lieu of ever-deeper cuts into the legal aid budget, the drive to open up markets and stimulate competition is making itself felt in a number of ways.
The launch of the first Alternative Business Structures (ABS) in March 2012 has allowed non-lawyers to own, manage and participate in firms providing reserved legal activities. The steady trickle of licensed ABS looks set to gather momentum throughout 2013. ABS present their own unique problems with a concern that there will be a regulatory gap in protection for consumers where financial services are offered alongside legal services. The SRA has made clear that it will not regulate non-legal activities. Elsewhere the SRA is extending its remit by backing the Legal Services Board (LSB) proposal to make will writing and estate administration reserved legal activities.
The legal professions are working together under the umbrella of the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) with the BSB, SRA and ILEX Professional Standards, joining forces to consult on the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA). QASA sets its sights on rectifying underperformance in criminal advocacy and will require all criminal advocates to register with it by the end of 2013.
Following a review into the fitness for purpose of the Bar’s disciplinary arrangements, Desmond Browne QC has recommended the establishment of a Council Of Inns of Court Tribunals Service to cover both COIC disciplinary tribunals and the Inns’ Conduct Committees. A change manager is anticipated to be in place by October 2012.
The Financial Services Bill currently before parliament will commence in early 2013. It sets out the Government’s proposals for reform of the financial regulatory structure with a renewed focus on how firms treat their customers in place of the previously dominant concern over solvency. The provisions see the inception of two new regulatory authorities – the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The FCA will work with the PRA in considering applications to approve individuals to “Significant Influence Functions”, namely roles which have a material impact on the conduct of a firm’s regulated activities. Crucially, the FCA will only approve individuals if satisfied with their personal integrity and commitment to the obligations which they are taking on.
The Teaching Agency has replaced the General Teaching Council for England as the national regulator for the teaching profession. Only cases of serious misconduct and not incompetence will be considered with prohibition remaining as the only available sanction. The requirement for mandatory registration has also been abolished along with the necessity for employers to refer cases to the Agency. It remains to be seen whether this lighter approach to regulation achieves the degree of protection that the public have come to expect.
The drive towards greater consistency of approach in regulation and prevention of regulatory conflicts can be seen across the broad spectrum of the professional discipline field. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by a variety of regulators from the legal, financial and property sectors and involves the agreement of the signatories to disclose information to one another where it is lawful and in the public interest to do so. The success of the intended greater sharing of information is likely to become apparent during 2013 and serves as a symbol of the on-going push to create a consistent regulatory landscape.