2017: A year of uncertainty - Veterinary Practice
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2017: A year of uncertainty

This column ended 2016 with an account of our move to the new building, so as the new year now dawns on us it is time to look forward to what 2017 may bring.

For our practice it will be a time of watching the growth of the practice and working out if and when to expand vet numbers. The new place has thrown us ahead of the old practice’s growth curve and has some extra capacity in terms of rooms and facilities.

Will it be like the (mis)quote from the lm Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come”; or will it just allow the growth we were already seeing to reach its full potential? Whatever happens, we are prepared and have planned for all scenarios, even no growth at all.

Veterinary business is fairly recession-proof, but the wider economic climate will play a role in all our fortunes this year. Brexit and the uncertainties surrounding it will be a big factor, the uncertainties often having a bigger impact on consumer confidence than the actualities, which in any case cannot come into effect for another two years.

Employment rights and law will certainly be affected by Brexit. In 2015 I wrote on various types of veterinary employment and several clear trends were evident (main source being the RCVS survey of the profession).

There are more of us working part-time, especially female vets, but an increasing number of men too. Also, veterinary businesses are becoming more corporate-owned, currently about 20%.

Talking to people involved in finance in the wider health sector and opticians, there has been peaking of this trend in the optician industry with the growth of independent practices just overtaking corporate ones last year. We are often told we are 15 years behind the optician industry in this regard, so there may be a few years to go, but there will be a time when we reach peak corporate ownership as a percentage of businesses. I don’t think it will be 2017 though!

So for the time being we will be a profession of increasing numbers of employees, not small business owners, and increasingly part-time. This puts many vets in quite a susceptible position to the winds of change in employment law.

Erosion of rights and benefits

The march of Brexit will doubtless lead to an erosion of some of the rights and benefits enjoyed by employees currently. Paternity rights may well have peaked. In the wider world there are many workers doing various jobs through apps and for companies such as “Just Eat” and “Uber”.

These companies

have so far managed to dodge assuming responsibilities for their workers as they have denied that they are employees. A recent court ruling has stated that Uber drivers are indeed employees and that Uber must ensure their rights as such are upheld and that they are paid the minimum wage.

It will be an interesting year to see how this develops as more and more people work in the gig economy. For those of you who have heard this phrase and are not sure what it means, your tireless correspondent here has done at least 30 seconds’ research and can tell you that: “A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40% of American workers would be independent contractors.”

This may not affect that many veterinary surgeons yet, until sites such as vetsurgeon.org and others develop locum apps that cut out the middle men and women at the agencies, and cut their commissions too.

I am sure this will come and the Uber case will be very pertinent. What it will affect much sooner is vets who are employers and may use agency or casual workers.

Bovine TB in
the headlines

TB and its decades-long failed struggle to gain control will again be in the headlines in 2017. I was talking to a mixed beef and sheep farmer on the edge of Dartmoor a few weeks ago. He had been clear of TB for years but was the subject of a contiguous test the following week.

He asked my opinion on the badger cull. We both agreed that one risk of this is movement of populations of badgers from around the edge of the cull.

“I like my badgers,” he said, slightly tongue in cheek. “I know they don’t have TB. When they do the trial cull in xx region, who  knows what will happen when the badgers all start moving around to all the areas that suddenly have no badgers in!”

F-o-H 2017: The Results

Category 1

(no more than 10 full-time or FTE staff)

    Eastville Veterinary Centre, Eastville, Bristol (part of Highcroft Veterinary Group)
    Brookend Veterinary Practice, Witham, Essex St George’s Vets, Perton, Wolverhampton

Category 2

(more than 10 full-time or FTE staff)
Watkins & Tasker Veterinary Group, Portishead, North Somerset

Maven Veterinary Care, Sutton, Surrey Westmoor Veterinary Hospital, Tavistock, Devon

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