RCVS Council approves proposals for future College governance reform

At its January 2024 meeting, members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council agreed to consult on recommendations for the future reform of the College’s governance structure, as part of its overall legislative reform process.

At the meeting, which took place on Thursday 18 January 2024, members of RCVS Council were asked to discuss and then vote on key principles and potential models for the future of RCVS governance composition, which would then go to consultation with the public and professions. These changes would be integrated into the overall recommendations for legislative reform, through which the College is seeking new, modern legislation to underpin its regulatory functions and replace the outdated Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

The discussion at Council started with a written representation on the governance reform proposals from Professor Stuart Reid on behalf of Veterinary Schools Council, and a presentation from Malcolm Morley, Senior Vice-President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), that set out the organisation’s preliminary views on the proposals. Both organisations were broadly supportive of the proposals before Council, including moving towards an appointed governance model and parity between veterinary professional and lay members.

RCVS Council members then proceeded to discuss the proposals and voted as follows:

  • Council members voted by majority for the composition of Council to be a matter for more flexible secondary legislation rather than it being fixed via primary legislation;
  • Council voted by majority to move towards an independent appointment system for Council membership to replace the current election system;
  • Council agreed to an increase in the proportion of lay members, but a decision on whether Council should adopt exact parity of veterinary professionals and lay members would be informed through consultation;
  • Council voted by majority to reform its composition to remove the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) appointees. Currently the VSC has three appointed Council members;
  • Council agreed to consult with the profession and public on two options for the future composition of a 24-person RCVS Council, which would ensure this was as balanced as possible. The first option is a Council that has a slim majority of members drawn from the veterinary professions (of whom a majority would be veterinary surgeons) compared to lay members. The second option is a Council with exact parity between veterinary professionals (of whom a majority would be veterinary surgeons) and lay members; and,
  • Council was tied on whether to separate the position of RCVS President and the Chair of RCVS Council, meaning that this will come back for decision at a later date following the consultation.

All the recommendations agreed by Council will now be subject to consultation with the public and veterinary professions.

The proposals put forward for Council members to discuss and vote on were in line with recommendations on regulatory best practice identified in a 2014 Law Commission report (‘Regulation of Health and Social Care Professionals’), which were subsequently adopted by the UK Government.

Speaking on why these proposals for governance reform had been put forward to Council, RCVS President Sue Paterson, who chaired the Council meeting and introduced the paper, said: “The unique way that RCVS Council is currently constituted with annual elections to Council is an old model of self-regulation which is no longer found in other professions including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, solicitors and social workers, among others.

“As a responsible regulator we have a duty to operate in a way that recognises modern principles of regulation, and best meets our objectives to enhance society through improved animal health and welfare by setting, upholding and advancing the educational, ethical and clinical standards for the veterinary professions. The College’s recommendations would see us retain self-regulation in the sense of independence from government, and maintain registrants within our governance framework, while better assuring the public that we are acting on their behalf.

“It is our firm belief that, among other things, moving to an all-appointed Council member system, whereby those who serve on Council are selected via an independent process based on their knowledge and experience to ensure input from all parts of the veterinary sector, will better serve our aims, as will having a better balance of professional and lay members. Of course, veterinary expertise, knowledge and experience will also remain a vital part of any future arrangements throughout our committee structure, so the veterinary voice will be as important as ever in our policy and decision-making processes.

“I would like to thank Council members for having a courageous and forward-thinking discussion on what is not an easy topic. Recommendations will now go through a formal consultation process later this year to get feedback both from the professions and the public.”

The full details of the recommendations can be found in the RCVS Council papers for January 2024: rcvs.org.uk/who-we-are/rcvs-council/council-meetings/18-january-2024/

Further details about the consultation process will be published in due course.

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