We must agree on the way forward and let the leaders that are currently emerging shape the DWP review debate, says Lord Hunt
The agenda for action set out in this month's review of employers' liability (EL) insurance is one to which the industry must respond positively now. The report, timed to coincide with the study of the liability insurance market by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), is only an interim commentary containing preliminary findings, but it is a step in the right direction. There was some disappointment, but only as a result of unrealistic expectations. The government was never going to solve the problems overnight. At least we now have a road map leading to a series of solutions. Some of the answers must be provided by the insurance industry and that will require strong leadership.
The case for separating out long-term occupational disease from accident risks is still to be proved. The government has effectively passed the baton to the industry on this and other issues. Rather than wait for unwelcome decisions to be imposed by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with a different set of objectives, our key players in this market must agree on the right way forward.
Rehabilitation is at last claiming its rightful place high on the list of priorities. For too long, industry and commerce has had to bear a massive burden caused by the lack of prompt and realistic treatment for those injured at work or off sick. The NHS used to have the objective of getting people back to work. Now the TUC estimates the cost to the nation is rising towards £20bn. Here, the leaders of the insurance industry are coming forward with some imaginative ideas. We do, however, urgently need some joined-up government thinking, with all the key departments working together.
The agenda includes a review of the present legal system. The OFT is also to look at the issue of legal costs: if only the government had carried out the necessary research and authorised pilot schemes before abolishing Civil Legal Aid and introducing conditional fee arrangements (CFAs), things may have been different. But we need to look forward and fixed costs will provide one of the important solutions to the present muddle.
There are several other areas that require much closer consideration such as health and safety and risk management. There is scope for innovative joint ventures and we have a lot to learn from the way in which other countries have dealt with these problems.
The government intends to produce a further report in the autumn and any recommendations will be linked to the OFT's fact-finding study on the liability insurance market. So the clock is ticking and time for discussion and debate is limited.
Agreement within the industry on all the vital issues will be difficult and compromises will be necessary. There is, however, a welcome response already for the industry to rise to the challenges ahead. The leaders are emerging. The time has come for everyone to give them the support they deserve. Let the great debate on the DWP report begin.
Lord Hunt is senior partner of national law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs