Thursday, July 23, 2009

It takes time to do things now!

The Tánaiste Mary Coughlan was right to call for greater competition and for action to tackle the high costs and prices charged in the services and non-traded sector by doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc at the MacGill Summer School. Essentially she was challenging the professionals and their representative bodies to put their shoulder to the wheel in terms of increasing competitiveness. Now many of them would say they have suffered a lot from the downturn, in particular professionals such as architects, solicitors and estate agents where job losses and business closures have been high. But we also know many of them did very well in the last 15 years too.

Over the last decade the Competition Authority have produced a range of reports entitled "market studies" looking at certain professions and making a number of recommendations. These were quite lengthy and detailed reports, costly no doubt that exposed anti-competitive and restrictive practices in the professions which increased costs for consumers. In areas such as the legal, medical and dental professions, entry to training was controlled by the representative bodies keeping numbers down and increasing costs. The reports recommended a range of actions directed to the representative bodies, Government and statutory bodies.

In 2007 the Competition Authority as part of a submission to Government did an analysis of progress on their reports and they found little progress was made on most of the recommendations. (The table is on pages 57-58 of this report) Indeed in fairness to most of the representative bodies, they had a least moved on some of the recommendations. In fact it was Government Departments who had the worst record and had largely failed to move on most of the proposals. Perhaps some of the Departments disagree with the proposals, however we don't know.

Classic..."It takes time to do things now"!

Therefore while I agree with the diagnosis of the Tánaiste I disagree with her on the cure. We do not need another report in 6 months time, that is perhaps what the civil service would like. Consumers and taxpayers need action now to reduce costs and charges and that can be achieved now by Government moving to implement many of the recommendations in these reports.

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