Trust me, I'm a professional: surviving scandals and regulation

Saturday 17 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Conservatory, Barbican Contemporary Controversies

In many professions like teaching, medicine and financial services, the scope within which individual judgements can be made has narrowed considerably in recent years. Some would identify the problem as lying with government or regulators removing autonomy from professionals. But increasingly, many professionals are unwilling to take responsibility for their work and actively seek further regulatory guidance. This lack of confidence is reflected in the herding of opinions or when professionals make no decision rather than risk making the wrong one.

The public’s confidence in professionals has also been shaken by a variety of scandals. Faith in audit firms has been undermined by their failure in high-profile cases to identify manipulation in accounts. The estimated 1,500 unnecessary deaths at Stafford Hospital, highlighted by the Francis Report, suggested many doctors were unwilling to raise concerns about the standard of care there. There are also longstanding claims of arrogance: maybe it is time that doctors, teachers and lawyers were brought down a peg or two.

Yet, perhaps oddly, this trend towards the regulation of professionals exists alongside calls for more decisions to be delegated to ‘the experts’. An evidence-based outcome is seen as preferable to a political decision. In effect, professionals – those with long-term involvement in organisations – are being demoted in favour of experts – consultants and other outsiders parachuted in to make decisions on narrowly drawn terms of reference and with no ongoing responsibility for consequences.

Does undermining the role of professionals impact on the effectiveness of organisations, whether in the quality of schooling or the safety of hospital treatment? If professions lose their status, will this undermine morale? Why have professional bodies themselves invited greater outside intervention? Is this a clear-headed assessment of the failings of professionals or does it reflect a wider social problem of responsibility avoidance and loss of trust?

Watch the debate

Lesley Curwen
business, economics and personal finance journalist, BBC; writer and speaker

Hilary Salt
actuary; founder, First Actuarial

Professor John Seddon
leader of the Vanguard organisations; visiting professor, Hull University Business School

Dr Mark Taylor
vice principal, East London Science School; London convenor, IoI Education Forum

Paul Moloney
trade union and industrial relations manager

Produced by
Hilary Salt actuary; founder, First Actuarial
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Battle of Ideas, WORLDbytes

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