Lynn Drennan discusses the theme of ALARM’s 2007 annual conference in Cardiff
Issues of risk, responsibility and regulation will be at the forefront of lectures and workshops being presented at ALARM's annual conference in Cardiff City Hall this year (2-3 July). With last year's conference focusing on the role of risk management in driving and supporting innovation, this year the conference theme is derived from current debates on the extent to which individuals should be personally responsible for their behaviour and the degree to which risks should be regulated.
Many public service organisations – and this may be particularly true of local authorities – find themselves subject to a large number of claims from members of the public for injury or damage as a result of a perceived failure to act in a responsible manner. This has resulted, in some cases, in a rather defensive approach being taken to the management of risk. The banning of certain children's games, such as conkers, in school playgrounds in case a child is hurt; the dismantling of hanging flower baskets to avoid one falling on a passer-by or parked vehicle; the demand for removal of doormats from outside flats in high-rise blocks, as they could be a tripping hazard in the event of a fire evacuation – these are all examples where attempts to manage a perceived threat and avoid a claim for damages, have been held to ridicule by the media and led to calls for a 'sensible' approach to risk management.
In October 2006, the Better Regulation Commission (BRC) published a report Risk, Responsibility and Regulation: whose risk is it anyway', from which ALARM has drawn its 2007 conference theme. The report suggests that there is an over-reliance on government to manage risks, and advocates an approach to risk management that:
• Emphasises the importance of resilience, self-reliance, freedom, innovation and a spirit of adventure in today's society
• Leaves the responsibility for managing risk with those best placed to manage it, with the Government only embarking on state regulation where it represents the optimum solution for managing risk
• Re-examines areas where the state has assumed more responsibility for people's lives than is healthy or desired
• Separates fact from emotion and emphasises the need to balance necessary levels of protection with preserving reasonable levels of risk. A copy of the BRC report is available at: http://www.brc.gov.uk
The BRC study was led by Lynne Berry OBE, chief executive of the General Social Care Council, and one of the ALARM keynote speakers. With her past experience as chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, executive director of the Charity Commission, and chief executive of the Family Welfare Association, in addition to her involvement as chair and board member of a number of voluntary organisations and charities, Berry is well placed to comment on these important, and controversial, social policy issues.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), with whom ALARM was engaged in consultation prior to publication of the Compensation Act in 2006, has made it clear that when the courts consider what standard of care is reasonable in a claim for negligence or breach of statutory duty, they can take into account whether requiring particular steps to be taken would 'prevent or impede a desirable activity from taking place'. In other words, the DCA has sought to ensure that normal activities – such as those in the examples given above – are not prevented because of fear of litigation and excessively risk averse behaviour.
In addition to the social policy debates about responsibility vis-à-vis regulation, there has also been increasing concern about the financial impact of liability claims on the public purse, and, specifically, the role and related costs of claims management services. This has been addressed by Part Two of the Compensation Act 2006, which puts in place processes for authorising and monitoring the activities of claims management service providers.
The Chairman of Financial Services and Partner in Beachcroft LLP, David Hunt MBE (the Right Hon.The Lord Hunt of Wirral) has considerable experience in the fields of insurance and reinsurance. An adviser to the Association of British Insurers, Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and Vice-President of the Chartered Insurance Institute, where he was also the first independent chairman of the Professional Standards Board, he has been actively engaged in the debates surrounding the existence, or otherwise, of a compensation culture and the means by which the financial services industry can improve its image. As an ALARM keynote speaker, Lord Hunt will also be able to draw on his experience in the public sector, as he is president and patron of over 50 charities or voluntary organisations.
With more than 40 workshops and five specialist 'streams' that will cater for the specific interests of the police and fire services, housing associations, national government agencies and local authorities, the programme for the 2007 ALARM annual conference reflects the breadth of ALARM's current membership and endorses its vision as the 'UK voice for public service risk management'.
Lynn Drennan is chief executive officer of ALARM. Details of the 2007 conference programme can be found at www.alarm-uk.org