Cost cuts will stretch service, forecast vets
By Peter Bullen
GOVERNMENT cost-cutting changes to the state veterinary service could endanger Britains livestock industry, vets warned on Wednesday.
Announcing the "streamlining" of the SVS, farm minister William Waldegrave said that the number of front-line vets would be maintained.
But leading vets, including British Veterinary Association office holders, were sceptical. President Paul DeVile said the BVA was worried that the SVS would be unable to respond as rapidly to major disease outbreaks as it had done in the past.
By concentrating vets in fewer premises they would have to travel further and there would be a certain lack of command and control which could hinder its "fire brigade" response to outbreaks.
Mr DeVile said the BVA was not impressed with the governments proposals to fragment the SVS coming so soon after the UK had had to scrap its import controls on animals from other countries in the EU single market.
His fears were echoed by Alex Brown, who was MAFFs chief vet for seven years.
For the sake of saving a few million pounds the government was putting the UKs multi-billion pound a year industry at risk he said.
Labour shadow farm minister Dr Gavin Strang also accused the government of dismantling the UKs defence at a time when the threat of importing disease from the Continent had increased. "It can only be bad news for the future of animal health in this country."
In addition to the merging of the Veterinary Investigation Service with the Central Veterinary Laboratory from Oct 1, MAFF is streamlining its veterinary field service. In England five regions will be cut to three and 28 divisions reduced to 15. Scotlands two regions will be made into one and seven divisions cut to five. In Wales one of the four divisions will be lost. All the restructuring should be finished by next April.
MAFF is to retain control of the pig, deer and poultry health schemes but fees will be increased (apart from the pig scheme where fees will be pegged for three years because of the sectors economic problems).
MAFF will he discuss with industry bodies their plans for taking over the sheep and goat and cattle health schemes – except for the scrapie-free and enzootic bovine leucosis-free categories which MAFF will retain.
MAFF will stop random animal welfare checks on farms to concentrate on those where it believes problems may be found. It will also be studying the possibility of lay people carrying out tuberculin testing.
The NFU said although it would be happier if MAFF kept all its services going it realised it had to make economies and was glad it was concentrating its resources on the areas on which the NFU had raised particular concerns.