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9 December 2011
Although nearly three-quarters of parliamentarians have a coherent understanding of the work of professional bodies, more needs to be done to change misconceptions of their roles and responsibilities, a parliamentary roundtable has heard.
The Dods Professional Bodies Dialogue, a collaborative discussion forum bringing together five institutions representing different professions, met in Parliament on Thursday morning, as part of an ongoing research programme.
Whilst a poll of MPs, conducted by Dods on behalf of the Dialogue, showed that 74 per cent have a clear or somewhat clear view of professional bodies, the Dialogue expressed concerns that one of the most common perceptions of their work was that they were self-interested.
Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, argued that there needed to be a movement away from the view that the professions are self-serving.
She said: "The perception of being self-interested worries me enormously. That tells me that as a group and as an individual organisation, we are not communicating or connecting sufficiently."
Providing a parliamentary view, Alun Michael MP, former First Minister of Wales, argued that professional bodies needed to do more to promote the work that they do.
Michael said: "You must set real standards, which people outside of the profession can understand."
And he stated that, while he had "a sense of what professionalism is", he sought to understand more about the role of professional bodies.
Furthering the discussion on the perception of professional bodies, Lord Grocott commented on the perceived exclusivity of the professions amongst parliamentarians and the broader body politic.
Grocott said: "There is a life cycle with a professional body. They start off with the best of intentions – to establish best practice – and with very worthy and highly desirable objectives."
He continued: "As professional bodies become more part of the UK establishment, they exercise more and more exclusivity and make it harder and harder to join the profession."
The roundtable also discussed examples of how professional bodies have placed the public interest over that of their members.
Outlining his work for an organisation that views itself as a representative body, Richard Messingham, public affairs adviser at the Law Society, highlighted the Society's work in areas that may not necessarily be in their professional interest.
He noted the LASPO Bill as one example, due to its focus on Legal aid- only 5-6 per cent of the profession, but an area that the Society feels is of upmost importance to the braoder populace.
Continuing the theme of professional bodies putting the public good first, Daniel Pedley, public affairs manager at the Chartered Insurance Institute(CII), emphasised the CII's involvement in the Retail Distribution Review.
Eager to ensure trust remained high in financial services, Pedley described how the CII had advocated for Independent Financial Advisors to require higher levels of qualification in order to attain the perception of a professional and committed occupation.
The Dialogue agreed that the desire to pursue a career in the professions was about much more than financial gain. Toni Faezeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning, said: "This is not about financial gain. It is driven by the commitment to passing skills on to others."
And David Evans, membership director of the British Computer Society, outlined exactly what a professional body is.
"Generally we are about empowering people who want to be professionals and take responsibility. There is a challenge across public life to restore trust in some of our public bodies and that is a task that we all need to cooperate on."
The Dialogue also touched on the debate around a 'licence to practice' for professionals. Steve McCabe, MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, highlighted the apparent disparity between different sectors' disciplinary procedures. McCabe mentioned that whilst lawyers appear to be publicly chastised for professional error, this is less common amongst I.T professionals.
And Lord Boswell of Aynho praised Alun Michael's earlier suggestion of 'a tolerated licence to practice', that was driven by the professions, as an idea with "interesting potential."
The Dods Professional Bodies Dialogue parliamentary roundtable took place on Tuesday 8th December 2011.
The Dialogue partners are the British Computer Society, the Chartered Insurance Institute, the Institute of Customer Service, the Institute for Learning and the Law Society.