Bovine tuberculosis testing tools© Tim Scrivener

A legal challenge has been made against Defra’s decision to award the new TB testing contract in England to one veterinary group.

Xperior Farm Group, a joint venture between two established veterinary companies, Eville & Jones and Westpoint Veterinary Group, is challenging Defra’s decision to award the whole of the contract to XL Farmcare.

Xperior Farm Health said it launched the legal challenge last month after the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) parent body Defra notified it of its decision to allocate all five delivery partner contracts in England to XL Farmcare.

See also: Government agency to shake up delivery of TB testing

XL Farmcare was set up in March 2011 with its headquarters in Staffordshire. According to its website, the company was established to provide “cost-effective, quality-assured and sustainable livestock health management services for government”.

XL Farmcare’s principle business focus is TB surveillance. The firm says it brings together veterinary practices to create an “integrated and fully assured TB testing service through all regions of England”.

Last week, the APHA confirmed the award of two contracts to deliver TB testing and official veterinarian (OV) services in Wales – Menter a Busnes, in North Wales, and Iechyd Da (Gwledig), in South Wales.

But when it announced its decision on TB testing contracts for Wales, the APHA said it was “not yet in a position” to award contracts for the five regions in England.

The APHA said in a statement: “An unsuccessful tenderer has issued legal proceedings in respect of the English lots and this matter is currently being addressed.

“This matter remains commercially confidential. Further information on the award of contracts in England will be provided shortly.”

An APHA spokesman told Farmers Weekly that because a legal challenge had been made, it was unable to give information on the award of the five contracts in England until after the legal process has concluded.

The two regional suppliers chosen in Wales will start the delivery of new TB testing and OV services on 1 April. However, because of the legal challenge in England, it remains uncertain if services will begin on the same date.

The APHA spokesman said: “The introduction of the new arrangements has got to follow confirmation of the contract awards and that is dependent on the outcome of the legal proceedings.

“We cannot speculate on how long that will take. At the moment, we are not speculating on whether services in England will or will not start on 1 April. That will become clearer next week.”

An industry source said: “The concern is all about what was in the tender document about a continuing service of work and revenue for rural veterinary practices and a high level of services to farmers.”

Under the new TB testing regime, regional suppliers will be responsible for allocating vets and ensuring testing is carried out to a high standard.

Farmers and livestock keepers who would prefer to use a practice that is not part of the delivery partners network retain an option to pay for the testing privately.

TB testing costs the taxpayer in England and Wales about £26m each year.

APHA veterinary director Simon Hall said previously that the main driver behind the changes was to put in place contractual arrangements to ensure a better quality of service.

He added: “It is important the APHA is able to demonstrate it is achieving the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.”