15 August 1997

Cattle database HQ paper-based & not too cheap

By Tony McDougal

MAFF has admitted that its proposed headquarters for the British Cattle Movement Service at Workington, Cumbria, will only deal with paper-based transactions and will not be the cheapest site to establish.

And even though the service will be placed in the public sector, MAFF has given the clearest indication yet that the livestock industry can expect to pay both the estimated £5m establishment and £15m running costs. "The livestock industry should expect to pay, because it is the main beneficiary," a MAFF spokesman said.

FW has learned that the main database will be within MAFFs Information Technology Directorate at Guildford, which holds the cattle passport data, and will deal with 80% of the expected 80m annual cattle movements electronically.

The 100 staff at the Workington site, which has been leased from British Steel through the West Cumbria Development Agency, will deal with the remaining 20% of paper-based cattle movements, submitting details electronically to the main Guildford computer.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker claimed in a recent Commons debate that the Workington site would provide value for money. But MAFF admitted establishment costs would be higher than other sites considered, which are believed to include MAFF centres at Guildford and Reading. However it expects this to be off-set by lower staff costs.

Stephen Rossides, NFU head of livestock, said the decision to site the BCMS at Workington had been a political one which had surprised MAFF officials, and that the union would have expected a consultation meeting.

Service assurance

Mr Rossides added that many of the recent announcements surrounding the BCMS had been surprising, and farmers needed to be assured that they would get a cost-efficient service, especially now government planned to run the service in the public sector.

Bill Madders, chairman of the cross-industry database working group, said he had assumed the BCMS would be based in Guildford to run alongside the cattle passport computer.

MAFF claimed the West Cumbria Development Agency had volunteered details of the Workington site. But WCDA chief executive Barbara Stephens claimed she had been given four days in mid-July to respond to a "verbal and confidential" request for office accommodation. And she said the tender had been an unconventional one set to a tight time-scale.

"The agency had to produce an economically compatible bid to secure the investment."