THE PUBLIC sector encompasses a huge range of risks and this is reflected in the variety of topics being discussed at this year’s annual conference of the Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (ALARM).

The conference, which takes place at the University of Warwick on April 12-13, 1999, includes workshops and lectures on crime prevention, stress, private finance initiative, school risk management, best value, arson, emergency services, unoccupied property, motor fleet risk management, the Woolf Report, disaster recovery, plant security, sea defences, employee absenteeism, and the Crime and Disorder Act.

The vast range of risks and exposures makes the role of the public sector risk and insurance manager a particularly challenging one. Many of the risks are similar to those faced by organisations in the private sector, and there is much that the two sectors can learn from each other in terms of risk management. This explains the close working relationship between ALARM and AIRMIC. Indeed, a recent AIRMIC chairman was a local authority risk manager.

However, there are also may risks and exposures that are unique to the public sector, which require very different approaches to those in the private sector. Risk management has improved dramatically in the public sector in the last few years. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the demise of MMI and the pressure of the commercial insurance marketplace which has focused attention on loss prevention.

But sometimes this pressure can be unrealistic, and public sector risk managers have to think laterally and approach risks from a different angle. This was brought home at a conference shortly after the demise of MMI. A panel of insurers and brokers was talking to a number of public sector risk and insurance managers, one speaker was talking about school fires and said that the solution was to have all buildings sprinklered. A delegate then pointed out that most schools in his local authority did not have enough money for books, or for repairing broken windows, and that a sprinkler system in every school might be a little unrealistic.

Times have moved on, and loss prevention is growing, but still there are two areas which, in survey after survey, regularly appear as being the most demanding in terms of time and resources, and where a large number of claims occur causing concern to risk and insurance managers in the public sector: schools and highways.

This special report looks at some of the current issues affecting the public sector. School fires are a major issue and the Arson Prevention Bureau has begun a campaign promoting risk management to help deal with the growing problem. But schools have a number of liabilities and this report includes an article looking at the new proposals to allow schools to handle their own insurance. The article urges schools to look hard at their liabilities and the benefits of purchasing insurance as part of a larger group, the local authority, rather than as an individual school.

This report also includes a look at the issue of highway claims which now represent a major part of all claims faced by local authorities. The article looks at various risk management measures and the techniques which can help to reduce claims. The Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts, the NHS mutual, is now four years old, and has proved itself in terms of promoting risk management, and is now beginning to face major claims which will test its claims handling abilities. A number of changes have taken place and this report details the new approaches being taken by the CNST.
Local authorities have a number of liabilities, but there is one area where risk and insurance managers may not have been aware that their liabilities are increasing: The Human Rights Act. This may not at first appearance seem to have much relevance, but as this report shows, it will have an impact on legal issues and negligence cases in particular.
Finally, this report analyses the results of a survey into Risk Management Groups within local authorities: their use, their makeup, and their effectiveness.

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