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Ensuring good governance

A consultation on governance reform

Front cover of governance reform consultation document We are calling for new legislation to replace the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (VSA) to enable us to be a modern, flexible, forward-looking regulator of the entire vet-led team. As part of this work, we have made a number of recommendations about the way our organisation could be governed in the future.

From 10 June to 22 July 2024, we are running a consultation on our recommendations, and seeking feedback from across the veterinary professions and the animal-owning public.

Before you answer the consultation, please read the background information below, which sets out all you need to know about our role and remit as a Royal College that regulates. It may be different to what you think!

Once you have had chance to read the background, please read our recommendations in full.

View the full recommendations

A word from the President

On this page:

Why are we looking at governance reform?

The composition of RCVS Council – our governing body - is set out in the VSA. Therefore, we need to develop proposals for what that composition should be in any replacement legislation, including whether there should be any changes to strengthen and assure public confidence in the veterinary regulator.

The government may want RCVS governance to more closely reflect the principles of public assurance that underpin other regulators

When introducing new legislation, the government may want RCVS governance to more closely reflect the principles of public assurance that underpin other regulators. We have a large majority of professionals on our Council. This, alongside our system of elections, may not provide the best assurance to the public. Nor does it ensure that we have an appropriate mix of knowledge and skills on our governing body.

Meanwhile, Veterinary Nurses Council’s governance composition better reflects the regulatory norm in some respects, compared with RCVS Council, and also does not require new legislation before any changes could be made.

The regulatory landscape

What is a regulator?

A professional regulator is a body committed to setting and upholding the professional standards of one or more professions in the public interest. Amongst other measures, they do this by:

  • keeping registers
  • creating codes of conduct
  • setting educational standards, and
  • having complaints procedures and disciplinary processes

It’s important to remember that although our primary function is regulation, our governance structure is far from the modern regulatory norm.

What is a Royal College?

Royal Colleges are organisations created by Royal Charter to fulfil a particular purpose. They are legal entities that exist independently of their members and of government.

Royal Colleges fulfil a wide range of functions, and are often very different from one another. For instance, the Royal College of Music is a conservatoire, and the Royal College of Nurses is a trade union. The medical Royal Colleges are usually professional bodies with a focus on postgraduate education and clinical standards.

Royal Colleges have a range of governance systems. Most are elected, but some are appointed. Some have small governing boards that are separate from their councils, and some do not. There is no single ‘Royal College model’.

The RCVS – a Royal College that regulates

Unlike all other Royal Colleges, however, we are a regulator. The VSA is the primary legislation that underpins and details our regulatory functions and governance, but it sits alongside our Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter empowers us to advance standards as well as set and uphold them, in the interests of the health and welfare of animals and in the wider public interest.

This allows us to take a more holistic approach to regulation than would otherwise be possible, and also underpins the RCVS Fellowship and our award-granting powers.

This combination of Act and Royal Charter is what makes the RCVS a Royal College that regulates.

What does regulatory governance look like elsewhere?

The governance of other regulators is based on principles set out by the Law Commission and adopted by the government. Regulators are tasked with giving assurance to the public, and the governance of regulators is designed to reflect this.

It is the norm for members of governing bodies to be appointed via an independent process to ensure that members have the appropriate skills and expertise

It is the norm for members of governing bodies to be appointed via an independent process to ensure that members have the appropriate skills and expertise. An appointment, rather than election, system also helps avoid the risk of looking like a representative body working in the profession’s interest, rather than a regulatory body working in the interests of the public.

Membership is usually 50% professionals and 50% lay people, to give assurance that the profession is not ‘setting and marking its own homework’. The most recent regulatory body, Social Work England, is entirely lay.

If the RCVS is unique, shouldn’t its governance be likewise?

Our principal purpose is to protect animal health and welfare, and to maintain public confidence in the veterinary professions. We do this by:

  • setting standards of professional conduct and veterinary care,
  • setting educational standards, by providing guidance on what is expected of veterinary professionals, and
  • taking action where there are concerns about fitness to practise.

We must do this in a way that gives assurance to the public and to the government that we are acting in the interest of the public rather than the professions, whose interests may differ.

It is therefore appropriate that we consider governance reform in line with the principles established for other regulators, both in the human health sector and elsewhere.

It is therefore appropriate that we consider governance reform in line with the principles established for other regulators, both in the human health sector and elsewhere.

The RCVS is indeed unique as ‘a Royal College that regulates’, and this may justify some variance from the usual principles of regulatory governance.

RCVS Council has already agreed that it should recommend the retention of a membership of 24 people, which is considerably above the norm. It is also considering whether to maintain a majority of registrant members.

However, the medical Royal Colleges are not regulators, therefore their governance arrangements may not need to reflect the above principles. They are not useful comparators when considering RCVS governance reform.

What 'self-regulation' actually means

One key aspect of self-governance is a statutory regulatory body that regulates without government intervention. This contrasts with models where regulation is carried out directly by government departments. We are not recommending any changes to this aspect of self-regulation.

The traditional model of self-regulation – involving professional majorities and elections to governing bodies – is no longer in-line with government principles on good regulatory governance

However, the traditional model of self-regulation – involving professional majorities and elections to governing bodies – is no longer in-line with government principles on good regulatory governance, so we can expect any new VSA to reflect this.

In any event, those members elected to Council are not there to represent the interests of the professionals who vote for them. Moreover they’re there to ensure veterinary input into decisions that are in the public interest, a vital function that would continue under an appointed mode.

Of course, it is also in the public interest for there to be a sustainable, confident and well-supported profession – an aim we work hard to achieve.

Horse rider and horse with text overlay - good governance consultation launches 10 June

The consultation – how to take part

Our consultation launched on 10 June and will run online for six weeks until 22 July 2024.

As part of this consultation, we have provided our preliminary recommendations in full, which you will need to read, please, before providing your feedback.

In particular, we would like to hear your views on the potential impact that implementing the recommendations could have, and any evidence and arguments that we might not have considered.

We would welcome views from all veterinary professionals, vet and vet nurse students, the wider vet-led team, those who own or keep animals and the wider public.

Responses to the consultation will be analysed and the resulting report will be considered by Council later in 2024 before any final set of recommendations are agreed upon.

View the full recommendations

Further information

Webinar

Watch the below webinar that took place on 11 June 2024 around the RCVS consultation on governance reform. With Sue Paterson FRCVS, President, Eleanor Ferguson, Registrar, and Ben Myring, Policy and Public Affairs Manager.

Podcast

If you’d like to hear more about the challenges we face as a regulator working with outdated legislation, listen to our guest appearance on the Institute of Regulation podcast series.

BVA Live

We discussed all things #GoodGovernace at our in-person sessions at BVA on 7 June, and were pleased to be able to answer your questions.