Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Thirty-Fifth Report


Memorandum by the Privy Council Office


1.  The Joint Committee has asked for a Memorandum on three specific points on the set of Rules appended to the Order referred to above. It has also asked for a general explanation of the basis upon which the fees set out in the Rules have been calculated. This Memorandum will deal with the general point first and then the three specific points.

The general point:

  "Explain the basis upon which these fees have been calculated".

2.  Before the first Commencement Order under the Osteopaths Act 1993 could be made establishing the General Osteopathic Council ("GOsC"), Ministers had to be satisfied that, in both the immediate and longer term, the Council would be financially viable on the basis of the income that it would receive from registration fees. To that end, a Business Plan was drawn up and the GOsC entered into negotiations with its bankers and bridging finance was obtained. Ernst and Young, a firm of accountants, were commissioned to prepare an independent report on the financial viability of the Business Plan which was eventually deemed to be satisfactory.

In preparing the Business Plan the experience of other similar statutory bodies, their staff numbers and work-loads were taken into account. It should be noted that section 1(2) of the Osteopaths Act 1993 places a duty on the GOsC to "develop, promote and regulate the profession of osteopathy". The first two of these are not functions which are typical of other similar statutory regulating bodies. Account was also taken of the costs of running the largest of the profession's voluntary registers (the General Council and Register of Osteopaths) which registered 70% of those known professionally regulated osteopaths. In 1997, its registration fee was £496 (which was actually a discount from the original registration fee of £569) and membership of the Osteopathic Association of Great Britain (the professional affairs body) was £265. Osteopaths were therefore already accepting fees, voluntarily, in the region of £760 per annum. Those preparing the Business Plan were therefore reassured to discover that the cost of running the new statutory body, including promotion and development, could be set at a rate not too dissimilar to that already tolerated by the majority of the profession.

The "start-up" year in the Business Plan was costed at a figure in excess of £1 million and the Privy Council understands that the GOsC has been able to keep within this at a figure of circa £900,000, including the cost of servicing the loan. This includes the cost of insurance, legal and consultants' fees and staff costs in the development, production, evaluation and promulgation of the registration process. The cost for the registration process was set at £500, payable in two parts, £150 and £350, a system of refunds being available to those who choose not to take their applications further at this stage.

We are informed by the General Osteopathic Council that the Osteopathic profession is concerned to see that its statutory body holds its place alongside others of comparable standing and is financially able to carry out its functions in a professional manner. In this connection it should be noted that there are only approximately 2,500 Osteopaths to fund their professional body in comparison with, say, approximately 180,000 doctors whose professional body (the General Medical Council) is well established and has existed for many years. As a result, both the GOsC and the profession it represents recognise that it cannot compete in terms of low fee levels with other such organisations.

The General Osteopathic Council proposes that the annual retention fee payable after the end of the transitional period will be in the region of £750. As the GOsC becomes more mature, it is thought that its costs will shift from registration of individuals to accreditation of schools of osteopathy through to protection of the public and development and promotion of the osteopathic profession. The funding requirement is likely to remain at this level in the foreseeable future, but the balance of the GOsC's activity will change.

3.  Turning now to the specific points raised by the Joint Committee, the following answers are based on information we have received from the GOsC.

The first specific point:

  "Explain why, in addition to the scrutiny fee and the entry fee, an applicant is required to pay the expression of interest fee, and what provision in the 1993 Act authorises the latter fee to be prescribed".

4.  On payment of the expression of interest fee, an applicant is sent the questionnaire referred to in Rule 4(5) and 7(b). This is an extensive document designed specifically to provide information through which an applicant may satisfy the Registrar that he or she has been practising, "lawfully, safely and competently". It is the development and production of this questionnaire, which is dispatched with the application form and which provides the mechanism for assessing lawful safe and competent practice, which is reflected in the £150 expression of interest fee. The questionnaire has been developed with input from a number of different professionals, and was created specifically because there is actually a lack, in osteopathy, of a common qualification that could have given entitlement to registration.

Sections 3(2)(a) and 4(2)(a) provide for a prescribed fee to be paid before a person is entitled to be registered. These provisions and section 6(4)(a) provide for the entry fee. However, section 6(2) contains a general power enabling the GOsC to make rules "in connection with registration and the register and as to the payment of fees". The GOsC received legal advice to the effect that this provision is wider than sections 3(2)(a), 4(2)(a) and 6(4)(a). Section 6(2) contains supplemental provisions as to the payment of fees and it was considered that the reference to "the payment of fees" does not simply relate back to the references to the osteopath having "paid the prescribed fee" in the above sections, but encompasses something more, and separate from, registration fees, thereby enabling the GOsC to require payment of the expression of interest fee. It was further concluded that this view is reinforced by the wording of section 6(4) which, following on from the general power contained in section 6(2), provides that such rules "may, in particular, also make provision prescribing" fees for making an entry in the register, restoring such an entry, a retention fee for any entry, and entry in the register of osteopaths' qualifications.

The second specific point:

  "Explain the justification for charging £150 as the expression of interest fee for supplying the brief forms mentioned in Rule 7 (is the figure of £150 a mis-print for £1.50?)".

5.  The figure is not a mis-print and is indeed £150. The justification for charging this sum is explained in connection with the first point above. To reiterate: the questionnaire referred to in Rule 4(5) and 7(b) is not a "brief" document but is in fact an extensive document specifically developed and designed to elicit information which will satisfy the Registrar that the applicant has been practising osteopathy lawfully, safely and competently. The figure of £150 reflects the development and production of this questionnaire which, during the transitional period, will be the only method by which an osteopath can obtain registration.

The third specific point:

  "Explain the justification for charging £1,000 as the entry fee".

6.  The £1,000 entry fee covers two years ie: the whole of the transitional period which runs from the date of the opening of the register (9th May 1998). No retention fees will be payable in this period. As has already been pointed out, the fees have been set at this level in order to cover the costs of setting up the Council, engaging the Secretariat, and all the work involved in developing the register. It is considered that the GOsC is in a unique position in having to start "from scratch" in setting up a regulatory professional body with promotion and development functions. The GOsC submits that it is not appropriate to make comparisons between its registration fees and those of older professional bodies who have many years capital growth and investment behind them and who have significantly more registrants.

21st May 1998

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