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Royal College Day 2022: Address from Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO

It’s such a privilege to welcome you to an in-person RCVS Day this year – and to a refurbished One Great George Street, which is looking gorgeous – as are all of you, of course!

So, what have we been up to in the last 12 months?

Well, the ‘too long, did not read version’ is ‘bought a building, moved out of a building, stayed solvent, supported our staff, and kept the show on the road despite the ongoing effects of a pandemic, and did some dancing’.

Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO, delivering her address at Royal College Day 2022 So if that’s all the detail you need, feel free to go and grab a coffee at this point… but for those who want the longer version, here goes…

Let’s start with the building. Towards the end of 2021 we bought our fantastic new building, 1 Hardwick Street – after a rather long and protracted purchase process.

It’s a six-floor Victorian warehouse in Clerkenwell, a 15-minute walk from either Kings Cross or Farringdon, on the new Elizabeth line, and will provide a fabulous space and location from which the College can move into its next chapter.

We continued to lease-back Belgravia House, as per our original plan, but, given lockdown working patterns, it was starting not to make financial sense, so we moved out in March 2022 and into our new temporary accommodation on Chancery Lane – moving from being among the politicians to being among the lawyers!

Although we were all very fond of good old BH, it surprised many to find that it was not our forever home – in fact we had only moved into the building in 1995. But, nonetheless, we had become attached to it, and the thought of moving out was daunting – not least because it ended up mainly happening during lockdown.

It took a huge effort to move all of our stuff, and things have ended up in many separate locations, including salt-mines for some of our historic collection, to ensure optimal conditions; a vault for our precious regalia; archive space in Westminster; and several storage locations.

We also donated furniture and office supplies to a local school and recycled or donated much IT equipment. It was sobering to see quite how much stuff one accumulates in an office – why did we all need our own staplers? And don’t get me started on my shoe collection….

Moving out was a huge task and I would like to take this opportunity publicly to thank all of the RCVS team involved, in particular our Operations, Facilities and RCVS Knowledge library team.

Our new building currently has tenants and also requires some refurbishment work. Buying a building with tenants was financially very sensible and, actually, our move into temporary shared accommodation has been a great opportunity to reassess what we need from our workspace.

It’s given us a blank sheet to play with rather than trying to recreate Belgravia House in Hardwick Street, which would have been a retrograde step as our working patterns have changed so much since the pandemic.

Churchill said ‘we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us’ and it’s true that a building can help to define and maintain the culture of an organisation. So it’s really important that our new space is not only designed to support the way we want to work now, in this new hybrid world, but also how we want to be in the future.

We are starting the refurbishment planning process now and will aim to move in during the second half of 2023.

Sustainability will be key in our planning – and on that note I was proud that our team achieved Investors in the Environment bronze award this year, despite moving building.

In order to achieve a floor plate that accommodates our meeting room requirements, Hardwick Street is bigger than we need for office space right now, so we do have the option to continue to rent out part of it, if that makes sense. I am also keen that we dedicate sufficient space to a really appealing members’ area and better display of our unique historic collection.

I think many people felt that BH was just the home of disciplinary hearings, but the College is about so much more and I would like the new building to reflect that for our veterinary and veterinary nursing members. In fact, it is my ambition to invite every member of the College to visit the building at least once during their career for a purpose other than a disciplinary!

A huge amount of time this year has been taken up with our ongoing review of under care and out of hours and a massive thank you to our Registrar, our Standards Committee and supporting staff team in particular. I know that our Standards Committee Chair is fond of running, and this has certainly been a marathon, not a sprint!

I am delighted that at its meeting on Wednesday, RCVS Council agreed to a consultation package on draft new guidance. I think the pandemic has taught us how flexible and adaptive the veterinary team can be, and it’s important that in ‘peace time’ we recognise that the profession does not work in a vacuum, and has to adapt to the world around it in order to stay relevant and best serve the needs of animal health and welfare, and public health. We look forward to hearing the thoughts of the professions and the public on the proposed changes.

Another piece of work that has been ongoing this year has been our project to support conversation and action on veterinary workforce. We recognise the pressure that all branches of the veterinary profession have been under – not least the practising arm – due to a multitude of factors, including the pandemic, Brexit, increasing demand for veterinary services and shortening career spans within the profession for both vets and nurses.

We don’t hold all of the solutions and it’s something for all stakeholders within the professions to address. But we were delighted to host our Workforce Summit in November, where we brought many individuals together and, fuelled with data from our Registers and the views of vets and nurses at the coalface, we were able to support and facilitate conversations about possible solutions.

This work, headed by our ViVet innovation team, looked not only at recruitment and retention, the traditional pillars of workforce conversations, but also return – trying to see how we could, by supporting the development of a more inclusive workforce, encourage people back into the profession they joined with such joy on graduation.

Our Workforce Action Plan will be published shortly and, while there will be no magic bullets – sadly – we will be summarising our current actions and those proposed, together with what we know other organisations are working on.

A key part of retention is to build the right culture in which veterinary professionals can thrive, and our work on leadership, diversity and inclusion, and mental health supports this. We were delighted to launch our leadership library this year, as well as publishing a report on how better to support Black, Asian and minority ethnic veterinary students, and also guidance on the wearing of religious clothing in clinical settings.

There is simply no excuse not to try to make the professions as welcoming as possible for the widest range of individuals. The establishment of our new working group on reasonable adjustments and focused licensure is part of this drive.

We need to open the doors, include all and make all welcome, so that everyone feels they can belong. And along with the opening of those doors will come huge breaths of fresh air, new perspectives and valuable skills and knowledge, too.

We will also be supporting vets and nurses to meet our standards via our new online RCVS Academy which was launched last month – a really great initiative that brings together accessible learning in one place. There are two types of regulator – those who say ‘we set the standards, it’s up to you to meet them’ and those who recognise that it’s in the best interests – in our case, of veterinary professionals, animal health and welfare, and the public – if regulated professionals are supported in meeting those standards set for them by their peers. The Academy helps us meet our objective of being a compassionate regulator that wants our members to succeed, so I would encourage you to go and look.

And staying on the theme of support, thanks to the hard work of our Education, Digital and Communications teams we were able to launch the new VetGDP for new graduates in summer last year. We currently have over 2,000 VetGDP Advisers who have completed the training and a further 1,400 or so who are in the process of completion. A handful of vets have already completed the VetGDP, and we are collecting data from both new graduates and employers about the programme, which we will publish in due course.

So far, it’s been very well received. We know that the support that vets receive in their first year or so in the workplace has an impact on them that can be career-long, so I am really delighted that the College is leading the way on this – and we have received interest in the programme from many other countries now too.

The College does continue to make its mark globally, in terms of education, such as our new accreditation standards for vets and nurses, our professional culture work, practice standards and other initiatives. And when it came to Europe, we also made our mark with our dancing skills this year…

We were really pleased to have been able to host the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe General Assembly in London last month, jointly with the British Veterinary Association. Originally planned for 2020, this had been a long time in the making, and huge thanks to our events and public affairs teams for pulling it off.

It was not only the first in-person General Assembly since Covid, but the first one since Brexit, so it was really important to remind our European colleagues that while we may be out of the EU, we continue to value our relationships with them and the benefits of collaboration, shared knowledge and support on a range of really important professional, and animal health and welfare topics.

Nancy de Briyne, the wonderful Executive Director of FVE said to the RCVS and BVA teams afterwards ‘Together you organised an event that everyone will remember and talk about for a long time – we will say ‘Remember when we were in London…?’ Which was lovely to hear.

But what of the dancing, I hear you say? Well, we decided that to showcase the four countries of the UK we would have an English-themed event at the House of Lords – although I am not quite sure what our French colleagues made of the English wine! But thank you to Lord Trees for hosting us. Then Welsh and Northern Irish lunches at the meetings, and a Scottish-themed dinner on the Friday, complete with ceilidh band. We may have exited the EU, but the colleagues who do si do together, stay together…right??

We have covered a lot of ground this year and this ten-minute overview is never going to do it justice, so apologies for anything I have missed. Do please take the time to read our annual report, which covers more activities.

As ever, a huge thank you the Council and Officer team for all of their support this year, and especially Kate Richards, who has been such a fair, inclusive, knowledgeable and skilful President, in particular spending a huge amount of time supporting our push for new legislation.

And I would just like to close by saying a few words about the team at the College.

We had our first in-person all-staff meeting in three years at London Zoo last week and it was so amazing to see everyone – or nearly everyone – together in one place again. It was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on how diverse our staff body has become – we have recruited many new people over the last year or so.

Yet the shared values – of compassion, straight-talking, diversity and inclusion, and forward-thinking – really shone through in the excellent conversations that were had, the fund-raising efforts to support war-torn Ukraine, and the willingness to push ourselves and to support each other.

I have been so proud that the staff team that supports the veterinary professions – professions that, in most cases, are not their own – do so with huge passion, energy and commitment. I know that not all members of the professions get to see this first hand – but perhaps, once we can welcome you to Hardwick Street, you will!

Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoy the rest of today – with lunch and our inspiring awards coming soon, it will get more fun from here… although I can’t promise dancing!

July 2022