Professional standards


                   There is a lot to be said for encouraging and supporting high professional standards. They are the complement to demanding high quality from industrial and service companies.  In both cases there are market pressures to lift standards and quality. Competitive forces will tend to raise standards where they matter to customers. It happens naturally in industries and services where it is obvious if quality and standards are not high enough.

                     It is such market forces which have delivered cars which are better made, last longer, have a much wider range of comforts and conveniences, and are more reliable. Modern car makers have to install strong  quality systems, instil  the message of quality in their workorce, and seek to designing poor quality out of their factories. A 2012 car is so much better, with so much better performance and specification, than a 1972 car.

                   In professional services there is now a stronger emphasis on continuous education for those wishing to maintain their practising certificate within their profession. Some see this as a benign process, seeking to emulate the obvious succcess of quality management in business. Others question the value of some of the work done given the cause of maintaining and enhancing professional standards. At its best the programmes of professional improvement are genuinely programmes to raise standards. At worst they can degenerate into box ticking exercises where people have to reproduce the agreed consensus for the sake of the gapfill exam, or into ways of perpetrating a collective error in approach and limiting competitive forces.

                 I would be interested in your experiences and  thoughts on this topic. It goes to heart of how much regulation of the professions and services should be statutory, how much should be undertaken by professional bodies, and how much should be left to consumer choice and the differences of the market?  We also need to consider why the public sector does not have the same robust approach to quality management and improvement of standards as much of the private sector.

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  1. Nina Andreeva
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    You could start by applying some common disciplinary measures from the world of work to the House of Commons. The days of clocking up a MPs pay and privileges by an erring member until the electorate can get a rid of him at the next election should be over. So those guilty of chronic absenteeism, like Gordon Brown, violence, like Eric Joyce should be subject subject to a voter recall so they can be removed at the earliest opportunity. With a threat like this hanging over a MP, this should ensure that they are working at peak performance and offering maximum “shareholder value” and end the impression that they only have to seek the approval of their bosses once every five years.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      My view is that every MP should be constantly exposed to the possibility of recall by his constituents once a certain period has elapsed since his last election, say one year, and the right to initiate that recall process should rest entirely with the voters in his constituency and should not be restricted to MPs who’ve been condemned by other MPs as the government was proposing.

      I say “was proposing” because that proposal seems to have disappeared into the long grass.

  2. lifelogic
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    My view is that usually the “professional standards” end up as box ticking, fees for training every three months. Often protecting the profession from competition and diverting people from productive activity.

    Once a trade has a trade organisation, then often that very organisation becomes a force for more regulation on the industry. That way the trade organisation can provide services to guide the trade through any maze of regulations generates, training, insurance and other money making schemes for the trade organisation.

    Take for example the absurd tenant deposit protection scheme. It benefit few tenants and costs landlords and tenants and is very time consuming. It is clearly in the interest of the trade bodies and state sector who generate income from it.

    Legislation need to encourage good practice and competition. For example by deterring confusion billing as practised so well by the fuel supply industry or confusion contracts (eg the insurance industry) and not deter or cut out competition. There is a lack of competition in banking, the legal profession, the gas industry and countless other areas. It should deter fashionable nonsense like the green energy nonsense, also deter designed in redundancy and general shoddiness of modern goods. Also the attempt to force you, by complex design, to use overpriced consumables/parts from the one supplier of the equipment. Printer ink cartriges as a good example. Or force you to “upgrade” software/hardware for no sound reason beyond profit for the supplier selling new and their refusal to support it any longer.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      I heard a presenter on the BBC last night on the world news suggesting that Mitt Romney would have done better had he embraced climate change. What planet do these BBC people come from? Not even Obama now believes in the man made “climate catastrophe” scare exaggerations any more, as is very clear from his sensible but belated actions on energy.

      When will Cameron, Clegg and the BBC finally wake up and come back to their senses?

      • Nicol Sinclair
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Don’t hold your breath. They are too involved by family(ies) to dump such a thought.

      • Credible
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        A warm embrace.

    • zorro
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      I tend to agree with regards to new cars. I do not think that newer cars are necessarily better built. Some may be more fuel efficient but there are other costs associated with their upkeep and they can never justify the prices charged. There are too many niggly faults which require expensive fixes.


      • zorro
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Training can be a tick box affair and often gets caught up in ‘transformation’ and ‘professionalisation’ which take forever and do anything apart from the job people are supposed to be doing. In my experience, there is no substitute for practical experience and on the job training.


        • APL
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          zorro: “Training can be a tick box affair .. ”

          Much of ‘training’ is an arse covering affair, largely to comply with the financial regulations, anti money laundering bla bla bla.

          Not that the prominent nor influential seem to be overly concerned with complying with such regulations.

      • stred
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        A while ago, my very economical and comfortable car’s computer suddenly cut its engine and consequently power steering and braking too. The garage’s fault finder later diagnosed a cruise control fault. The engine re-started and it has not happened again. However, my wife decided the car was dangerous and we had to sell it.

        My builder wanted to buy it but apparently it needed a new cambelt. The internet said so. So I had the work done and was surprised to find that it took 4 hours and cost 5 times as much as the last one. The car came out of the garage with an engine fault light showing. For another £30 the fault finder said it was glowplugs and exhaust gas recirculation. Nothing to do with the cambelt. The cost of investigation could be up to £800. The car is going perfectly but my wife refuses to travel in it. I also found out the cambelt was not due on this model for another 50k miles.

        I had to buyer another older low milage car and tried to trade my ‘old’ one in. It was almost worthless. During all the negotiations and visits to garages, I was told that all modern cars can cut out suddenly. The fault finders are a nightmare and often give false alarms, as the sensors are faultly. Often the only solution is to go to the main dealer, which will use the most complex diagnosing tool and try out every expensive spare part until they find one that does the job. The trade think that in the end the car manufacturers are aiming to make engines so complex and difficult to service that the work will have to be done by main dealers.

        I think I have cured the problem with the exhaust gas recirculation clogging up the sensor by spaying an aerosol designed for the purpose into the air intake. Cost £8. The glowplugs were not defective and the engine has started perfectly throughout.

        • lifelogic
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

          Wives can indeed be expensive, mine insist of BUPA insurance that we never ever use (and could pay for at the time if we ever did), and makes me buy the wrong houses or discourages me from good deals too sometimes by being over cautious.

          • zorro
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            Tell me about it!


        • peter davies
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          Lights from the exhaust on diesel engines are normally the DPF filter. Its avery expensive filter that collects the most harmful fumes from a diesel engine then spits them out now and again which seems strange to me because the emissions still get released at some point.

          To make this light go out simply drive along a straight road at about 3000 RPM at a constant speed for about 10 minutes and it flushes the system out.

          The other option if the sensor is faulty and doesn’t serve any purpose is to take the DPF out and get the car reprogrammed to ignore it.

      • lifelogic
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, a new wing mirror now, with heating, indicator lights, electric adjustment and body colour matching can cost perhaps 500 times what a simple one should cost. Is it really that hard to adjust by opening the window? Is it really an advantage to the end user or just to the manufacturer when they are knocked off, break down or are damaged?

        • oldtimer
          Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          It is harder to adjust passenger side windows. Manufacturers introduced electric adjustment because customers wanted this feature.

          • lifelogic
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

            You just lean over. They perhaps persuaded the customers they wanted this feature? Or just gave them no real choice.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

          Got to agree in principal with the car door mirrors, but not everyone wants this as oldtimer points out.
          Though I presume you are using Linux as an operating system for your computer and other free and open source software such as browsers? Not Bill Gates absurdly expensive and complicated Windows and his other products that you are such a fan of? Thought not..

          • lifelogic
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

            I tend to avoid Bill Gates absurdly expensive and over complicated and unfairly dominant Windows but sometime I do have to use it. I use chrome browser, linus, android and open office and certainly have never bought any software off Microsoft other than the O/S that comes with the hardware – on principal.

            Still he and his wife are doing good charitable works with all the money I suppose.

          • zorro
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            Ubuntu is good too with free office software and a lot more responsive.


        • Mark
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          Those who drive in cities value self-parking wing mirrors, precisely because they are less at risk from being ripped off by a passing vehicle or hooligan.

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Vendors cannot support all old versions of software ; the maintenance becomes prohibitive and nobody would be prepared to pay for it . The solution to a problem may be to upgraded to a version in which it is fixed .

      That said there is a lot more churning than genuine progress .

      So much software has become bloatware in an effort to stifle competition ; operating systems with web browsers built in , Database Management systems with XML supporting features built in .

      Perhaps “professional standards” have a place to play in protected professions like medical , law , teaching , civil engineering .

      Imho they are at best inapplicable to most non-protected professions especially engineering of intangibles eg software .

      I’ve lost count of the number of times when managers from different fields would misguidedly try and apply disciplines/methodologies which worked in other fields to software . Just like Southampton football club appointing rugby coach Clive Woodward .

      There are some useful methodologies out there but I think many people who do not understand the inherent complexity are attracted to them because they seem to offer the promise of a prescriptive approach which they think will result in a particular outcome and also enable lower skilled workers to be utilised .

      I think this is also the reason why many politicians love “technology” ; it seems to promise magical solutions which defy natural laws . This is of course science fiction .

      In the case of management of data , “professional standards” have been subsumed by “professional qualifications” which amount to indoctrination in a specific vendors tools set .

      Sadly I can easily imagine a Govt promoting microsoft qualifications or oracle qualifications as “professional standards” as Govt’s love to decide winners .

      This vendor tools set training/indoctrination is deliberately far removed from education .

      The consequences of this are that only a minority of people in the marketplace have knowledge of the fundamentals underlying their field .

      Since only a minority are in a position to evaluate products and demand real improvements , they are drowned out by the undiscerning who have been spoon-fed with “professional qualifications” and no real progress is made .

      • forthurst
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        “Sadly I can easily imagine a Govt promoting microsoft qualifications or oracle qualifications as “professional standards” as Govt’s love to decide winners.”

        It’s already happened: (there is a -ed) story in the Register records Mr Gove recruiting Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and BT to ‘assist’ with the teaching of ‘Computer Science’.

        The government when it wants an ‘expert’ to sort out e.g. the civil service normally recruits a retailer; in other circumstances, they’ll go for someone off the telly.

        In my experience having provided services to many different industries, the smartest people are in engineering particularly where they have to deploy their capabilities abroad, not in retailing, not by a long chalk. Financial service people never know what they want until the’ve found out what other organisations are doing.

      • Mark W
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        I wish I’d had more time to contribute on this entire thread but I have to offer congratulations on the best new term I’ve heard in a long time. “Bloatware” brilliant.

      • lifelogic
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Indeed but it is mainly “churning” to sell new product and render old ones unusable artificially by making them incompatible with new ones.

        • zorro
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          Boilers are another area of supposed innovation which seem less stable, and more prone to expensive failures. Have you noticed the tendency to tie you into long installation/service packages which can go on for years. It is as if they are trying to get the customer used to giving them continual payments (almost like tax) in addition to bill payments.


    • Bazman
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      I seem to remember pricing a monochrome printer in 1992 and the cheapest costing £300. This is what drives the electronics industry forward, but there are to extend the life of the printer whos life is often set to a certain number of pages, but lets face it that old printer is a croc. Forcing the supplier to take back the old printer is one solution, but I’m sure you would not like this as it would increase the price of them in the short term at least and would be absurd regulations.

      • Richard
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        If you read this back very slowly to yourself Bazman, you may realise that this post doesn’t make any sense.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

          I’ll type the next post very slowly in big letters so you can understand Richard.

  3. Brian Taylor
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The big difference between public and private sector is very simple,it is COPETITION!
    If you don’t get the service you think you should when spending your money you go elsewhere.
    In the public sector we still pay for service but not at the point of delivery,so if that service is not what we expect we have accept it and hope it is better next time,as we have already paid via taxes we cannot refuse to pay at the time we receive this service nor do we have a choice to go elsewhere.
    Therefore only competition can raise standards!!!

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Indeed – competition in the public sector. As you have already been forced to pay for the NHS, schools, universities, the BBC ………… competition is distorted hugely or even eliminated. You can only go private if you are rich enough to pay twice. Once to the state system and once for your actual service.

    • Anonymous
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Brian – Tell that to private sector lawyers.

    • Bazman
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Like the local takeaway?

      • Richard
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        What on earth are you talking about. Your comment has no relevance to the topic at all.
        Are you trying to be funny, because if you are, then you are failing miserably.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          Competition is excellent for local takeaways. Never seem to close, just turn into another takeaway. In my street the local Indian takeaway closed and is now and Indian fish and chip shop. What is your point?

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      I can’t recall competition reducing the price of the energy, water, and rail industry.

      Also all competition does is promote technological innovation and lower the price of the finished product, it does not improve working conditions or improve services.

      • Mark
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. Competition broke the back of the OPEC cartel.

        Competition has improved many services. A relative recently had a short stay in hospital: he reported that the food was much improved over an earlier stay in the same hospital some years ago, now being provided by an outside contractor. Competition also improves working conditions where there is a shortage of people with the necessary skills.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          Not for the metal trades it did not. Same wages and worse conditions than the 1990’s despite the shortage of workers with the necessary skills. Any idea why? Or any idea?

  4. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    John, as far as professional standards are concerned and the continuing study / certification of achievements ,i am not entirely sure whether these methods are helpful. As a professional, the study needs to be on an ongoing daily basis, to be able to function effectively .When we are forced to take mandatory courses , it costs us money , we go over the same thing again and again and new learning is put on the back shelf.The extension of our skills needs to be represented by a certificate and many are required to go back to content we learned about some where in the long gone past, but have practised and by daily improvement, up to a standard which exceeds those who certificate the course.

    I myself have been going back over things again and again, but really need to spend more time on progress , yet am held back continually by demands of the less qualified in terms of professional ability.

    • zorro
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink



      • stred
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        My last CPD session before I quit taught us how not to run a building contract. Since then, the letting of contracts has become far more to the contactor’s advantage, with specifications and briefs left open ended.

        Builders and gasmen tell me that their training is expensive and they consider most of it useless. I also heard of a case where electrical training ‘tickets’ were issued to the half of the firm’s worforce who never arrived at the training centre, as their bus had broken down. All that was required was the fee.

        As to professional registration and training, anyone wishing to avoid the system can simply set up as a ‘consultant’ in engineering and architecture. When I wished to make a complaint about an ‘engineer’, highly regarded by the the building inspector and who had ignored my instructions and designed 4 beams and a foundation wrongly, I was told by the Institute that they could do nothing about unregistered engineers.

    • Mark W
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      I believe this is crossing more industries too, and often nothing more than a boring few hours in a tick box exercise where staying awake is hard work towards the end.

  5. Acorn
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Letter from Herr Bahler.
    Office for Pan Euro Solidarity, Bruxelles

    Dear Dame Lucy
    I need to draw your attention to the EU Single Market Directive 2005/36/EC. In particular the EU Regulated Professions Database.*#top .

    It has come to our attention that you have an elected official who appears to be questioning the requirement for regulation and is suggesting that these matters should be left to “market forces” and “should be left to consumer choice and the differences of the market”. I think you will agree that said official’s interference in this area of EU Commission competence, is wholly unacceptable.

    You will be aware there are 220 regulated professions attributed to the UK on the database. These require proof of cross qualification on such professionals translating their activities across the borders of the EU/EEA/and Switzerland, under the above Directive.

    “I trust you will be able to explain all this to the elected official. We have noticed your success with the Foreign office over the Common External Action Service, and with the Home Office over some criminal justice measures. The environmental area is also going very well. These all prove that it is so much better when the UK is in the mainstream, and can help influence the natural course of EU development.”

    Yours in ever closer union.

    • Martin Ryder
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Nice one!

  6. RB
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    CPD is a good idea in principle. Professionals should and do have the obligation to keep up to date anyway.

    CPD is only good if it offers quality and is worth the time effort and cost. I have experience of CPD in the legal profession and, later, for property professionals.

    In both cases CPD courses are generally pointless. You turn up at some hotel, or conference centre, perhaps 3 or 4 times a year, having taken a day out and paid £350 plus VAT for the privilege. You pick up course notes at the door (which might have minor changes or updates from the year before) and then sit as various speakers read them to you from an overhead projector. Quite a few people pick up thier notes, grit their teeth until lunch, attend second registration, and leave.

    Other CPD provision is mere box ticking. In law you could receive a monthly magazine, read it, and then do a CPD multi choice “test” sheet in the back of the magazine, based on its contents. You then fax it off and back comes a CPD certificate, for a fee of course. You could satisfy about 70% of your annual CPD requirement by this method alone, if you wanted.

    CPD, as most things like this do, has become an industry.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Indeed another largely parasitic industry we have enough of these already.

      • Mark W
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        There will be more. Once too many tiers of government exist they have nothing constructive to do so they dream up these daft ideas without ever addressing the one thing all commercial employers have to face. The law of unintended consequence.

  7. Stephen Mayson
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    This is a very important topic. Too often, continuing professional competence and compliance with mandatory continuing professional development obligations are assumed to be the same. Some more detailed reflections on this are in .

    • Stephen Mayson
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      should have said, are in ‘CPD: compliance, competence or development?’

  8. Anonymous
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Professional standards are more often about protectionism for the professionals.

    Very little of the – up to 7 year’s – training is of use to the client. There are more solicitors than police officers in the UK, for example. The telephone books are full of them yet the rates remain high.

    They work for ‘free’ some of the time but with wins and out-of-court settlements fortunes are made and huge damage to our country is done.

    GPs are just glorified triage nurses who use the internet and the BNF. 120k plus a year ???

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink


    • Bazman
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Much of this is part of the MCSSS as you point out. Buy a house and pay legal fees for each investigation into the sale. Why? The GP however is a bit more complicated and if you think it is not then you are to thick to have it explained to you.

      • Richard
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        Bazman, you plainly dont understand what the process of conveyancing does to protect you when you buy a property.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          Four hundred quid in legal fees to buy an ex council house in 1999 with.. Gasp! Another forty quid to find out who the sewer belongs too. Must have been a legal minefield. Easy money and you know it.

      • Mark W
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        Bazman, now I finally understand what you mean by MCSSS. You may have a point.

        I’m careful to be to critical of GPs but some are better than others.

  9. Sebastian Weetabix
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Ongoing professional training is vital if you are a doctor or engineer, simply to keep up with the latest technical or scientific developments. In other words it is both necessary and works when the content of the training is concrete and objective. On the other hand I am very sceptical about such activity in the more nebulous sphere of ‘senior management’. I have seen far too often in large organisations that it becomes a vehicle for inflicting the latest fashionable fad on everyone and indoctrinating the middle management. Climate change springs to mind as a classic example. The other one is ‘diversity’ which really is not about diversity at all, it is about imbuing all staff with a Frankfurt school/Marxist mindset and the implicit threat of career damage if you don’t tag along.

    I worked for some years for the US branch of a huge German multinational. They were very very keen on diversity. They liked to see every nationality, colour and disability in the workforce and were determined to push women forward at every opportunity – so far, so admirable – but there was one aspect of diversity they were not at all keen on. Diversity of thought. In that respect complete homogeneity was considered vital!

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Yep , uniformity , conformity , homogeneity , normalcy , obedience resulting in mediocrity .

      The pack instinct starts beating the creativity out of kids as soon as they enter school . The damage is inflicted early .

      Professional standards will be the equivalent of crack cocaine for our MP’s and their pedlars in Whitehall .

  10. Pete the Bike
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “A 2012 car is so much better, with so much better performance and specification, than a 1972 car.”
    Not true if you buy a Mercedes. However you are quite right about market forces improving standards. Completely the opposite of the public sector which gets it’s money from theft and is not subject to the free market.
    I can give an exact percentage of the amount of statutory regulation of standards there should be. 0%. The government knows nothing about anything. It interferes and disrupts market places to the detriment of every single person in the country bar those bureaucrats leeching off the regulations.The market is cheaper, more efficient and vastly more effective than bungling paper pushers in Whitehall.

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Make mine a S600 Grosser please !

  11. Lord Blagger
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink


    How about the choice when it comes to services provided by the state?

    Open that up to competition.

    Ah yes. You can’t. 4.7 trillion in pensions debts for the state pension, fraudulently hidden of the books.

    So you need to force the customers to buy so you can over charge them.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Indeed and on the NHS, schools ……….

      • Bazman
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        How are they going to do that on less than a fiver an hour with no income support lifelogic? They are not as you know, so then what? You think they should just take it lying down? Your lack of answers tells us all we need to know about your stupidity.

        • lifelogic
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          The do not have to work for £5 if they find a better offer. If the state sector were smaller there would be more jobs. Then again someone on a pension might enjoy an interesting part time job on less than £5 per hour but is prevented by law.

          • Bazman
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

            Simplistic fantasy. There can never be more cleaning jobs than cleaners in a commutable locality.

          • uanime5
            Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

            Osborne tried cutting the state sector by firing hundred of thousands of employees. The result what not the predicted millions of private sector jobs being created but barely enough jobs being created in the private sector to match those lost in the public sector. Also the economy got worse because of higher unemployment and less growth.

            So shrinking the state sector doesn’t magically create jobs and it may even cause jobs to be lost in industries that supply the state sector.

            Reply Employment rose, and so did current public spending!

  12. oldtimer
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Buyer power in a competitive market is the surest way to raise standards. For that to happen buyers need to be offered a choice of suppliers, not a monopoly. That is why state provided monopoly services are slow to change; some even resist change. State regulation can also promote monopoly provision of privately supplied goods and services.

    There is a case for legislated standards where professional competence is needed to deliver the service. An obvious example is the requirement for companies to produce audited accounts, and that the audits are conducted by professionally qualified accountants. That is surely right. I also agree with present arrangements that such auditors are controlled through a professional organisation which sets exams, and requires regular professional updating. Updating is surely required when the regulations under which they operate are so complex and subject to so much change. It is possible for competing accounting bodies to exist in such an environment; indeed there are some (such as cost and management accountants) that focus on other areas of business need. This latter group operates internationally. The introduction of local legislation into such activities would be regressive especially if it were promoted by the professional body to secure a monopolistic position for itself.

    I am less familiar with the requirements of the engineering bodies such as the electrical and the meachanical engineering institutes and similar professional bodies. My belief is that they operate in a similar way. Legislation on the detail of their activites would lead to ossification and be inimical to change. They should be left to self regulate.

    Where legislation may useful to the consumer is in the product standards that are required. But this view needs to be qualified because it is not unknown for the bigger companies to capture the standard setting process. This seems to happen with EU regulations which demand test and validation routines beyond the capacity of all but the biggest companies – and often for relatively innocuous products.

  13. English Pensioner
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    When I was working, I belonged to one of the Professional Engineering Institutions, having attended Technical College part time, and in due course sitting the exams required by the institution in order to become a full member. In those days, membership of such institutions was regarded by most employers a being superior to a degree, as part of the requirement was that one had been working at a suitable level in the field concerned.
    Now it seems that such institutions require applicants to have a degree with the result that membership has fallen as those with decent degrees don’t bother to join. This seems to have resulted in the organisations changing their role and becoming more interested safeguarding members’ jobs, and acting more like a trade union.
    Certainly to the outsider, the BMA seems more interested in protecting doctors from criticism than raising standards, and the teachers’ unions, which like to describe teachers as “professionals” seem to do absolutely nothing to improve standards whilst protecting incompetent members at all costs.
    I tend to suspect that in these two cases, it is because the major employer is the state and one has to merely meet the states’ minimum requirement to work there. Contrariwise, a private employer tries to get the best that he can for his money, and this tends to increase standards, and the professional organisations tend to respond to this by in turn raising their standards for entry.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Given that RBS got Fred Godwin it seems that private employers don’t always have the best standards or encourage their employees to raise their standards.

  14. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Quality Management was quite rightly introduced into car and truck production, even more so with aeroplane production.

    However, at the behest of the Department of Transport, it was introduced into civil engineering and transport planning consultancy projects. Fairly soon, there was a plethora of forms to fill in and a QM bureaucracy to run things. Yet all that was important was to have useful information on file should the Project Manager be struck down by a bus – client and third party contact details, task inventory and task resources, project programme and progress, milestones, deliverables and drawings etc. These requirements could be summed up in a couple of A4 pages, and the information stored in Word, Excel and MS Project files.

  15. SadButMadLad
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Another sector where “professional standards” does nothing in terms of the actual quality of work carried out is in the building trade. The FMB are a toothless group that try and make out that belonging to them makes means there members are the best. Fools the public when the builders use it as a marketing tool, but the builders just tick boxes to join it. Similarly with GasSafe for gas engineers and Part P for electricians. These two don’t do much for the quality of the work carried out. Members of the two organisations can still overcharge, leave a mess, do a bad job, leave it half done. So long as they follow the rules with regards gas and electricity everything else is up for grabs.

    The only purpose professional standards bodies have is to make it harder for new entrants to join as they have to pass the exams to join to carry out their trade.

  16. Denis Cooper
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink


    “EU to be federalised in the long run, Merkel says”

    “The EU commission will eventually become a government, the council of member states an “upper chamber” and the European Parliament more powerful, but fixing the eurozone problems is more urgent for now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told MEPs on Wednesday (7 November).”

    “Of course the European Commission will one day become a government, the EU council a second chamber and the European Parliament will have more powers. But for now, we have to focus on the euro and give people a little bit of time to come along,” she said.”

  17. Neil Craig
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Another market mechanism that can compete wirg government regulation is requiring insurance. This can cause problems where the costs of suing are less than of being sued, as in America, but even there malpractice insurance is more likely to drive a bad doctor into other work than government or professional regulation.

    In France, instead of much of our building control regulation, they simply have a requirement that builders have insurance against long term failure. For every person in France coming here for a job in our more flexible job market there is a Brit going to France to buy an affordable home.

  18. Alte Fritz
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Regulation does not make the bad become good, not the good become better. Regulation usually involves those who have never worked in the regulated field telling those who do how to do their jobs.

    When the regulatory creep began, it sounded so beguiling. If there is a problem, regulate it away. Yet it does not work. For all its faults, self regulation worked better, and a competitive market should add all the edge that is needed.

    Comment on this post would fill volumes, but I would just say that the anti lawyer posts which have appeared so far betray extraordinary ignorance or bad luck in choice of lawyer. My (long) experience is that clients normally get the lawyer they deserve.

  19. Bernard Juby
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I can only speak for my profession (Medicine, Law & Prostitution???) where medicine suffers from 2 sets of regulation. The professional standards overseen internally from within the profession (expected) and the Rules and pettyfogging bureaucracy imposed by Government via the N.H.S. (largely unacceptable).

    • Bazman
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Prostitution covers many professions especially politics.

      • Richard
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

        You do make me laugh.

        • Bazman
          Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          You are not part of the ‘Head’ family are you. Your writing seems familiar?

  20. RDM
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink


    I tend to agee with:

    “My view is that usually the “professional standards” end up as box ticking, fees for training every three months. Often protecting the profession from competition and diverting people from productive activity.”

    The CPD I have taken, cost a so much, but if it does not match up to a future financial benefits, it will dis-courage you from taking any!

    A real example, from my past is a £3k course cost £1k extra in travel, Hotel, etc … but I the condition of the market (Generally) resulted in a fall in Business Investment, and I never got a chance to add practable experience to re-enforce what I learnt. Result; wasted training.



  21. stan francis
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Have not viewed all replies so will reply to your question only.
    I am self employed, run a small engineering business catering for dental fraternity that has no regulations whatsover apart from GUILT- which may force a supplier of services to do a better job.
    The htm2022 guidelines covers only NHS trusts, it does not cover private, it’s purely advisory.
    I am a very passionate person, I supply a service that covers ALL POSSIBILITIES OF DANGER TO THE PATIENT/PUBLIC/PWNER STAFF of a private establishment and also to any NHS site I may they like me?..not really but they like to know where they are going wrong put it that way.
    Why would I chance losing cash by pointing out people’s failures to ensuring the public are protected, again that’s passion and I have lost customers and sales becuase of that-I have laso retained customers for over 30 years because of by straight talking.
    I contract to supply a compressed air services that covers 100% use, my customers pay for this professionalism of over 40 years in compressed air business.
    Where am I going with this?….what I am saying is I do NOT HAVE TO supply this high professionalism at all, no regs on it, a code of practice but nowt to worry anyone that wants to make cash that wants to sell a compressor, install it and RUN!
    Well John there’s an eye opener for you-ur dentsist may not be SAFE?
    Well John it’s the Gov’t’s duty to ensure it is and the CQC are goinmg no where near it!
    Am I experienced. TOO MUCH?
    Here’s a prime example of a supplier of compressed air and asperator services, first off there’s no regs that stop anyone from siting a compressor alongside a suction pump that’s exhausting hep B every time it’s switched on-I have rtied my hardest to get this business cleaned up but no one is interested, CQC do not cover this, they cover every other area that doesn’t need legislation-Cross infection in a surgery?-okay u have the clean rooms now we call them, but what of contaminsted hepB air being sucked in by a compressor and then fed direct to the surgery and into the patients mouth..HAVE SAID ENOUGH!

  22. Robert K
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    My experience is that regulator-driven training programmes (I work for a European investment bank which requires me to hold US financial services licences) are that they are pretty broad-brush and are more of a box-ticking exercise than a useful addition to my portfolio of skills.
    As a professional in a private sector business, it is beholden on me to keep up to date. If I do so, I will be better at more job and therefore in theory at least more successful. If I do not, then I put my career at risk.
    BTW, on the subject of the car industry, no doubt the Nader-ites will claim that cars have become better because of rules on safety, fuel economy and emissions. All tosh, of course. People want those things anyway and the car industry would have supplied them irrespective of what the government says

  23. Bert Young
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    The Public Sector needs to have exposure and experience to the Private Sector . Years ago when Sir William Armstrong headed the Civil Service he was very concerned at the limited knowledge of the outside world that existed in the “brighter” ranks of the CS . He consulted a number of bodies and individuals (myself included) for recommendations . Exchanges were set up for talented individuals from industry , the city and service organisations to spend time in various departments of the CS , and , vice versa . At a Permanent Secretary level , monthly discussion groups were established with the leaders of industry , the city and service organisations . One such group called the “Open Dining Club” met for 10 out of the 12 months of the year to discuss an important topic introduced by a distinguished speaker . It was extremely popular and was always fully attended . Leaders from both private and public sectors formed friendships and contacts and facilitated the exchange of information ; the isolation that had previously existed was broken down and both sides benefited . Permanent Secretaries after Sir William Armstrong continued their support to these exchanges and it was still flourishing when I left the scene in 1988 .

  24. Adam5x5
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    We also need to consider why the public sector does not have the same robust approach to quality management and improvement of standards as much of the private sector.

    Aside from competition, as previously mentioned, there is also the power the unions have over the public sector.
    In the private sector, the union power is reigned in by the fact the business could collapse from external pressures or just up and leave to a different country if the unions get too uppity.
    In the public sector, this is not possible as it is a monopoly.
    Open the public sector to competition wherever possible and pull the teeth of these outdated gangs. The way a union can call a strike when less than 50% of the members vote for it is ridiculous.
    Historically they were useful for evening the power between the (generally uneducated) workforce and the far better educated mill owners. Today they are an anachronism as people are all educated and can move around the country with ease. Shouldn’t the pay awarded for a job be between the employee and employer only?

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      All legal strikes require at least 50% of the votes cast to be for the strike. The fact that many people don’t vote is irrelevant. By contrast MPs can be elected even if they don’t get 50% of the votes and only a small proportion of their constituency bothered to vote.

      I more industries were unionised the UK wouldn’t have such poor salaries, pensions, and working conditions.

      • Richard
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        One problem you’ve forgotten to allow for unaminee5, is the huge increase in numbers of new keen young immigrants, free to come here and ,often for min wage or even less if they are illegals.
        More than a hundred thousand every year.
        Increasing the supply of labour at a time when demand is weak.
        Real wages are falling as a result, especially for the lower paid.
        I cant see many east europeans wanting to join a trade union

  25. sm
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Competition and professional standards.

    What was our experience in recent years in banking & finance, did competition allow bad practice to push out the good?

    Well obviously competition is rather muted in banking as the mistakes have been left uncorrected and were bailed out (moral hazard). Therefore those that made the hard choices to stay the right side have not been allowed to see capitalism destroy the bad mistakes. Indeed the bad guys were cornering the market.

    Standards are all well and good – but we cant have a government protecting too big too fail and vested interests as their standards have not been good enough to deserve it.

    Back to the law:
    It would be good if governments enforced the laws we do have and returned to equity in front of the law. I suspect things have just got too close and laws have not been regarded as such.

    search for ralphs blogspot read & despair.

    • sm
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Sorry rowans blogspot.

  26. forthurst
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Fortunately for politicians, those that design and build cars and computers are constantly striving to improve the user experience whilst inexorably driving down costs to ensure their products remain competitive and affordable.

    Unfortunately for us, politicians show no such desire to reciprocate their good fortune by constantly improving our experience of everyday living. On the contrary, they are actively determined to make our country so unpleasant that those with useful skills, e.g. not politicians, are leaving these islands with an attrition rate which is alarming.

    The European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality apparently, according to the DM, believes there is a need for legislation to prevent ungroomed minds being exposed to learning materials containing “gender stereotyping”. Enid Blyton might once again be in the spotlight: we know that Noddy was a virulent ‘racist’, but what about the “Famous Five”? Is it not wrong that on returning home after tracking down villains with foreign accents, whilst Daddy was out at work, Mummy would have prepared tea ?

    When a company like ARM recruits staff, they do so on a minimum qualification of two brains and that is the secret of their success. Forcing recruitment and retention on any other basis than a proven ability to do the job well is unfair on the organisation and co-workers and unfair on those who have to pay for their services. When a doctor is found always to ‘diagnose’ the most common cause of a symptom and send the patient packing with a corresponding prescription irrespective of other considerations, he is unsuited to practising medicine, a danger to his patients, and re-training is a waste of time.

    Those who are good at their jobs, voluntarily make the effort to keep abreast of developments in their chosen calling and no compulsion is necessary: books, professional journals, courses, whatever; there should be no hard and fast rules or need for them. Duffers are those who lack the appropriate type of intelligence or motivation for a job and no amount of ‘reskilling’ will bring them up to speed; they’re best afforded the option of leaving to pursue other opportunities more suited to their inate abilities.

    • oldtimer
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I agree – well put.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      Well you clearly have no idea how the real world works. Those who are good at their job do so because they’re supported, and given advice and information about what developments they need to be aware of. Your assumption that “duffers” lack intelligence and can’t be “reskilled” shows your deep ignorance of the detrimental effects of a lack of support.

      The expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is particularly apt here.

    • David Price
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      @ forthurst: Well said.

  27. Daniel Thomas
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    For examples of effective Quality Control systems you should look at industries where any lapse in Quality would have catastrophic results. The aircraft maintenance industry springs to mind.

    Their Quality Control systems ensure that day to day hands on operations are carried out in accordance with strict, legally binding standards laid down in their various manuals.

    Quality Assurance continuously monitors the QC systems themselves for efficiency and effectivness.

    QA also has a built in investigatory function where any lapses in Quality or any technical incidents are investigated. Current procedures would then be ammended or new ones put in place to prevent reoccurance.

    My apologies for the technical jargon, just trying to help.

  28. Bill
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    My experience from the world of education is that a lot of what passes for CPD functions as a job-creation scheme for staff in Human Resources. We end up with 25 year old technocrats giving lessons to middle-aged professionals about anything from asbestos training to assertiveness. ‘We teach soft skills’ someone said.

    Any educational institution which says it is an ‘investor in people’ or carries some such logo on its website is almost certainly spending public money on teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs.

  29. Sir Richard Richard
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as a lawyer, I loathe CPD. If a lawyer is rubbish, sufficient complaints and law suits will stop them from practising. If a lawyer is good, he’ll probably already be keeping up to date on the latest law.

    Yet ANOTHER situation where the state unnecessarily interferes with two citizens’ contract; leave it to the free market.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      A lawyer is only stopped from practising if his clients realise this lawyer is rubbish. Given that the only way to tell if a lawyer is good or not is to know so much law that you don’t need a lawyer a bad lawyer can continue practising for quite sometime.

  30. John Harrison
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    There is a fine line between establishing standards and creating a barrier to entry. The City Guilds were a good example. To begin with, members of a guild could point their membership as a sign of their quality, but this very soon became a method of exclusion of newcomers and raising prices. As a result an active (illegal) free market developed at the other end of London Bridge. This distinction lingers on in ‘Sarf London’s’ dubious reputation and its vibrancy.

    There are many older workers whose ambition for never ending promotion has been substituted by a desire to see their younger colleagues develop and improve. I believe that the desire to teach is common among many mature adults who get a thrill out of seeing this development of potential (and perhaps being able to say ‘I tought him that’). We see this in sport but also, informally in the workplace.

    However, to do this in a more formal way nowadays requires expensive (in both time and money) training and ‘qualifications’. Thankfully, Prof. Alison Wolf has enabled FE tutors to teach in sixth forms, but the barriers to entry are still high. I believe active practitioners have much to offer their younger colleagues but are prevented by a profession that has become introverted and fearful of being overtaken by ‘amateurs’. I have some sympathy as teachers are under trmendous pressure from the absurd depradations of Ofsted and ‘raising standards’ – which basically means forcing ever more young people through the academic hoops to prove what a good job they are doing.

    Not all experienced workers are brilliant natural teachers, and some sort of selection and training is certainly necessary, but we are in danger of overlooking a rich source of expertise in this area.

  31. Atlas
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I well remember the “quality” management scam when it hit the organization I worked for 20 years ago. What a waste of time! – but it was a good money earner for a whole raft of non-job management consultants and course givers. I suppose the exemplar was Japan in the 1960s/70s – and look at Japan’s economy now, 20 years of stagnation.

    • uanime5
      Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      I remember that the Japanese practice where employees are forced to discuss work after work was promoted as raising moral because it would make employees more empowered. After testing they found that it demotivated the workforce (even when they were paid to do this) and that Japan had a very demotivated workforce.

  32. John Lewis
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    My late Father’s definition of a professional was someone you paid regardless of whether they did a good job or not – lawyers, doctors, accountants – they can provide a lousy service/give poor advice which costs their client money and still expect to get paid! And as for their so-called professional bodies – their only function is to protect the professional from his/her client.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Indeed they only seem to act when they are sleeping with their patients or similar.
      Killing them or operating on them for no reason seems to be fine in general.
      As does quack medicine even in the NHS.

  33. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    “It goes to heart of how much regulation of the professions and services should be statutory, how much should be undertaken by professional bodies, and how much should be left to consumer choice and the differences of the market?”

    The Hampton Review, the Regulators Code and the now established systems of best practice in inspection and regulation which are compliant with the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) give a good insight into how much regulation should be undertaken by regulators and how much by professional bodies.

    In short it is the duty of the regulator to protect against unacceptable practice and ensure improvement processes are being followed. It is the duty of the professional bodies to define and support progression towards excellence which can, of course, have many forms.

    Beyond that the extent to which consumer choice and the forces of the market play a role vary depending on the nature of the product or service. They are much more effective where there is truly free choice and customers are capable of making rational, informed decisions about quality. They are much less effective where location and duties of coverage, choice which is unrelated to quality and economics related to scale of consumption are important, such as in education. I’m not saying they don’t matter but I am saying that they ways in which they matter are complex and need to be carefully managed if they are to improve rather than reduce the quality of provision.

  34. Jon
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have an issue with the base minimum qualifications needed.

    On CPD I think its an industry piggybacking on the resources of the actual industry. It further creates another industry for the regulator to regulate. It has pushed advise to being only for the wealthy and that is the outcome of the legislators and regulators. It didn’t used to be that way.

    There are suppliers and providers who supply CPD seminars and tools hoping for patronage on the back of it. There you have another issue for the regulator to regulate that they created. Smaller firms could get advice on company pensions and benefits through factorising not they would need to pay cash upfront.

    In my industry Financial Services where are the regulatory problems, issues and areas that animate the consumer? I’ve seen the really big issues that were more derived from bad legislation or regulation. Lack of regulatory monitoring of the areas that really matter. On the smaller issues its individual lapses but not to do with knowledge or its things like IT / systems issues that have caused concern. Then ofcourse there are the criminals.

    I think there is a tendency to think if you rack up the qualification requirements it will somehow sort the issues out but have a look at what the issues are and there is a mismatch.

    CPD is a big expensive answer to a tiny small problem that is infrequently found.

    In my industry not readily appreciated is that it has had to employ compliance regulatory staff in abundance. Effectively FSA charged staff employed by all companies. This is in addition to the huge edifice that is the FSA.

    Yes this is box ticking, people and firms who are not up to date tend to fall by the wayside. Should any client have been adversely affected then there is redress. All this does is add greatly to cost which with RDR means advise only for the wealthy.

    Could go on but leave that part at that.

    On the public sector and my anecdotal knowledge maybe out of date but don’t they get lots of time off for exams. They can take qualifications in subjects that have little to do with their work. Surely savings can be made there by bring it in line with what a large private sector organisation would offer.

    Last point and it goes back to my first. Our legislators need to have practical working knowledge of the subject they wish to mainly pursue. To me that means a greater proportion of MPs with real private sector experience. John you like some others have this and it shows. Perhaps there is something in the vetting process. On Monday I happened to see an MP make a point on pensions that was embarrassing for its lack of understanding and knowledge and see that all too often. It is very disconcerting as it is from the place that legislates. For 15 years pension investment has remained static (monetary terms) in the face of an ageing population and that is due to legislation and regulations brought in. Just like in banking the main issues are sidestepped and they concentrate on the small issues for media effect or some other reason.

  35. Iain Gill
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    For my own profession the British Computer Society is a (questionable-ed), handing out chartered membership to folk with little real experience, indeed (some say – ed) Fellowships to folk who have no real clue. Its disregarded completely in the business because it (can-ed) fail in the basics of identifying who are properly decent professionals. Swayed by politics and hype, and (some?-ed) senior folk who have never really worked in the business. Any (some?-ed) folk who have produced failed project after failed project.

    Having being on a few public sector programmes they usually have many a “quality manager” and many a process invented to look at quality, sadly those normally are total waste of time. Quality comes from hiring people who have a clue about the role and not from the old boy network of public schools or army regiments. This is a basic mistake the public sector makes continually. Lots of tick sheets does not equal quality. (and nor does top down imposition of detailed decisions like the clueless Andrew Lansley and his nonsense about which standards projects should use, like he could possibly know from the centre)

    Consumer needs choice yes, especially in the health business and schools in this country. Both health and schools are businesses where ordinary folk cannot take their business elsewhere no matter how bad the school or GP is, this needs to change immediately, there is no way regulation even if it were half decent (which it isn’t) could possibly improve things the way good old consumers empowered to vote with their feet can.

  36. Jon
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    On another part you mention “collective error”. A tiny part of your blog but I feel a huge area with large ramifications. Overtly heavy regulation stifles innovative responses to market forces. We do want a market regulated but don’t want a regulator to govern the market.

    One thing that sprang to mind when I saw “collective error” in the blog were/are the uni management graduates and MBA students. Today it seems it all starts and ends with a spreadsheet. A useful tool they are too but a tool as in just a tool. This is a more recent thing over the last 10 or 15 years. An image I have of one is sat infront of a monitor showing a spreadsheet for eight hours with her back to the department waiting for the spreadsheet to change. The department was in disaray, no control and discipline seemed to be part of it.

    Unbeknown to her behind her was energy, ideas, needs, wants and aspirations. All that didn’t appear on the spreadsheet. Management by spreadsheets, don’t get me wrong, they are a brilliant tool but perhaps a collective error and box ticking. Not all new opportunities or improvements are not found that way. Just as important they can assert a wrong direction.

  37. They Work for Us
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    The only true professions left are those that:

    you have no option but to use them (take it or leave it)

    they can do and charge as they like (because you have no option but to use them)

    examples are doctors, dentists, lawyers, surveyors ? any more?

    On the subject of cars their is effectively a conspiracy between the EU and manufacturers to make them or and more complex and deliberately exclude quite capable people from doing their own repairs and servicing.

    As an example I bought a Diesel Peugeot 305 in 1986.

    I heard via a friend in the motor trade that dealers immediately fed back “this car is no good to us, anyone can easily service it and they don’t need us. DO something to stop this”. The next generation of cars had engine computers, engines covered by a shield so you couldn’t see the parts, poor accessibility without a garage hoist and the most recent moneymaking abomination – the diesel particulate filter.

    The current planned life of a car is 7 years by which time the electronics are beginning to fail at a cost that writes it off.
    It would be possible to make a car for life with long lived and simple parts but there is no chance of this being done because there is no money in it for the trade and most/ many? new cars are purchased as company cars.

    • alan jutson
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      They work for Us

      You may find that the manufacturers are producing cars with so many controls now, because they are trying to squeeze every single drop of efficiency out of them, to meet government regulation and to limit tax paid by their customers.

      Emissions equals a particular annual tax rate.
      Mpg, is bench tested, not a real drive, figures used for marketing advantage because of fuel tax rates.

      You could perhaps produce a much more simple unit, with much more simple servicing requirements, with fewer controls to go wrong, but the cost to the owner would be higher in the form of tax on emissions and fuel.

      Thus we have regulation by tax.

      • They Work for Us
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        The improvements in fuel consumption are overwhelmed by high servicing and costs and the planned obsolesence (capital depreciation) of the car. WE do have regulation by tax hence the cries from the Treasury that increased fuel efficiency (lower car usage) is producing a drop in residues.
        As JR would say they could make proper cuts and spend less e.g on the EU, overseas aid and welfare.

  38. uanime5
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    More competition isn’t the solution to every problem in industry. The benefits of competition are that it forces companies to reduce prices and innovate technologically in order to sell their goods. However the downsides are that working conditions, pay, and safety are reduced as much as possible in order to reduce prices further. The more competitive the industry the greater these benefits and detriments are. Thus any company producing goods needs to be regulated to protect employee’s working conditions.

    While competition does improve goods its effect on services is more mixed. The reason for this is that it’s easy to determine the improvements of a tangible thing, such as a car, but is very difficult to determine which intangible things are the most effective, such as the best style of management. It’s even more difficult to determine the standard of a service when a lay person is hiring a professional, for example most people wouldn’t be able to spot a cowboy builder until the builder has finished working. As a result it’s important to regulate the services sector to ensure that basic standards are maintained.

    • Richard
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      unaamie5, You appear to be calling for more regulation. But there is already plenty of regulation for every business area.
      What need to happen is for those who breach existing regulations to be proscecuted properly, eg your cowboy builder example or crooked financial advisors.
      Do you really believe that health and safety is worse in car factories like Jaguar or Nissan or in retail organisations like Marks and Spencers or Sainsbury’s which are in extremely competitive markets, rather than say in the NHS or in Railtrack or in other monopoly organisations which are in less competitive industries.
      I dont believe there is any correlation between pressure of competition and levels of health and safety.
      There are those organisations who flout the law and those who do not.

  39. peter davies
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    My experience of this is that often companies will make you take mandatory training to remind you of your obligations as a box ticking exercise which is little more than legal cover for a company should that employee do something wrong.

    From an actual job perspective there are a wide range of effective courses out there like PRINCE 2 for project managers, Six Sigma for quality control in a factory environment all based on proven best practice and put into something you can apply. Such examples when augmented to the knowledge of your trade discipline make a huge difference in output and productivity helping lead to success over competitors if other conditions are right of course.

    Many people I notice point out the lack of competition in the public sector meaning they are not driven to drive up standards. One thing to note is that the public sector from people I have spoken to who work in that environment is a great place to get training – whether they all value their training and make the most of it is another matter.

    This can only make me conclude that you do need a combination of the tools (appropriate training for professionalism) and the right operating environment (competitiveness) in order to produce the best output so in the case of the public sector they have the first in most cases but not the latter because all too often they have no forces to keep them in check.

    We see competition in sport, it drives up standards – look at rugby in wales and where it has risen to with appropriate management and professionalism in recent years.

    We see it in industry, competition when on an even competitive playing field combined with professionalism should keep prices sensible and standards high

    – uanime5 points out correctly that professionalism has not led to the utility providers keeping their prices sensible – I think he misses the point here, in this instance it is more down to the fact that a small number of providers have been allowed to carve up the market to suit themselves so this is more a regulatory/structural issue, just like what you talk about with big banks and the fact that there are only half a dozen or so big food providers (supermarkets) in the UK.

    This is I guess what govt regulation should be doing – keeping the balance of size vs competition at a sensible levels with adequate professional requirements in certain areas – the rest should then look after itself.

    In the public sector I have always been of the view that wherever possible, the delivery of any service (apart from established front line professionals – police, teachers, fire service, social workers etc) should be delivered by the private sector companies backed up by stringent compliance regulations on their behalf.

    That way the public sector becomes an enabler of services and the organization carrying out the service are obliged to do what they are paid to do unlike the council who will let something go to the wayside if deemed unimportant – it might cost more to deliver in some cases but overall it more than likely saves when you have a streamlined workforce and you remove pension liabilities.

    From a delivery perspective you also address that competition issue in the public sector because that company knows that if they don’t deliver or don’t perform face the prospect of losing that contract.

    I would point out before anyone wants to argue with me using PFI or PPP I’m not talking about them, they are hugely expensive services that in my mind were poorly designed (I have seen PFI providers charge £100 just to change a lightbulb – enough said!)

    There are huge political debates all the time about public vs private delivery mechanisms, particularly from many labour politicians who think we should all live under a centralist state where the govt or an agency feeds you in one hand and takes off you with the other

    – I would say look at Germany as an example of how they deliver health care – I believe 80-90% of their hospitals are private, do they have MRSA? Do you have to wait months for treatment? Does everyone get looked after? Do they have to compete to drive up standards?

    Enough said….

    • Iain Gill
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      prince2 you are joking? the project to produce prince2 itself was late and over budget telling you everything you need to know about the quality of the folk driving it. its another tick box centric PM centric view of the world which fails to take account of so many real world realities such as the technical leadership needed, the financial compromises needed, the people side of project management, and so on. give me strength.

      • Iain Gill
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        (certified prince2 practioner as if it matters)

  40. Credible
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Cars may have got better. Car dealerships certainly have not, at least not in my experience.

  41. William Long
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I worked in the Financial Services industry from 1969 till 2008 though I am still retained as a consultant by the Fund manager I chaired. Between passing the Stock exchange Exams in 1972/73 and the onset of RDR I managed to maintain the necesary FSA registrations and Fellowship of the professional body, now the Chartered Securities Institute without any further formal examination or registration of CPD save what I picked up by reading CSI updates as they came out on line. That would now be impossible as CPD has become compulsory to maintain the qualification. In principle that must be right but I have to say that the two Securities Institute training sessions I did attend were a waste of time as they were at a pretty basic level and quite clearly pitched to enable the attendees to have the box ticked. Anyone who was doing his job properly should have got a better understanding of the subject from what he had read in the professional press. I actually think that, rather than assume that people have picked up the necessary knowledge and competence because they have attended a CPD event, the better way is to test knowledge by regular (say triennial) examination.
    Having said this, the problem in the Financial Services industry that is far greater than the competence of most practitioners, is the systemic inability of any regulator so far, to spot abuses as they are occurring rather than acting in post mortem witch-hunt mode after the effects have become apparent.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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