In the latest edition of the EHN I came across an article entitled ‘A Virtuous Circle’. This article introduces the CIEH’s new Advisory Service. After reading this article felt the need to share my concerns.
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Firstly, I think it is important to fully appreciate what has been set in motion. This is not an ‘Advisory Service’; this appears to be the creation of the largest Environmental Health Consultancy Business in the UK. This business has instant access to the entire pool of environmental health professionals in all disciplines in numerous countries.
To effectively operate as an EHP, I am required to a member of the CIEH. As a general principle, I am uncomfortable with the thought that my professional body has developed a business that is in direct competition with its members. The article highlights that the CIEH are aware that they will be competing directly with those in the private sector. Saying that they are concentrating on higher strategic work does not alter this fact.
Many of the arguments for this new service suggest that the CIEH has a negative view of those who operate in the private sector and has little faith in the business acumen of its members. For example, it has been argued that current ‘Consultancy firms would not get this work as it’s the CIEH brand which is important to them [them = businesses who approach the CIEH]’. If a company was to approach the CIEH for such a contract, I believe the CIEH should stand up for its members and have faith that if a contract was too big for one company, Alliances or Partnerships would be created. Also, as a qualified EHO and long time member of the CIEH, I thought I was part of the CIEH brand. I guess I was wrong.
Some may say that there is nothing wrong with a bit of health competition. I do not see this as healthy competition because:
- At no cost (other than an opportunity cost) the CIEH can advertise these services and gain access to the whole profession.
- With an increasing focus on ethical issues, I don’t know of any other organisation who can boast that all profits go to a charity.
While I am not an economist, I understand that there is a delicate balance to any business sector. I have concerns that this new service will dominate the sector. I find it worrying when I read members suggesting that the CIEH consider getting involved in outsourcing and delivering House Condition Surveys.
What will be the boundary of this new service? I question whether there has been any consideration of the effect of this new service on the environmental health private sector market. The effect on the market is a serious consideration. A quick Wiki glance at the Competition Act highlights that the following practices are prohibited:
- Companies practices that distort, restrict or prevent competition, &
- Companies that abuse their dominant position.
Communication & Lack of it
There does not appear to have been any open communication with members about the development of the service, or whether members are comfortable with the move. It appears that this was only available to the select few who were part of the consultation and those who could spare the time to attend the recent Annual Members Meeting.
I could find no discussion topic on the CIEH’s own forum. The only place I have observed any discussion is on a LinkedIn forum that is very popular with EHPs. In this forum a significant number of respondents appear to be against the new service.
Let me be clear, I am not afraid of a challenge; this is clear when you take a look at my website. I am not afraid of change as it is a way of life. I believe that a healthy private sector is essential to the environmental health profession and it should be allowed to grow and develop naturally.
I believe this new service is effectively saying to private sector members “stay small and get on board with us or try your luck taking on our marketing machine”. My concern is that this new service will not result in a win-win situation. It will result in a win for the CIEH (and the in-crowd) and a loss for those who choose to remain independent in the private sector.
Due to business commitments I was unable to attend the Annual Members Meeting. My fear is that voices like mine will be left out of any discussion while those who do not wish to be left behind race ahead.
Ideally, it would have been great if I could log onto the CIEH website and watch or listen to the Annual Members Meeting. I could then comment on the issues discussed. The technology to do this is available at minimal cost and I feel this is a missed opportunity.