13 December 1996

Slaughter contracts for grabs

SLAUGHTERING and disposal of over-30-month cattle is being put out to competitive tender, with the contracts operating from Apr, 1997.

The Intervention Board announced this week that the selection process would begin shortly, with companies having to express interest by mid-Jan.

A short list will then be drawn up and those firms will have to submit formal bids, including costings. Abattoirs must have a weekly capacity of at least 200 head a week to qualify.

An IB official said there were no preconceptions of how many abattoirs might be awarded contracts. "What we want is sufficient numbers to give a proper geographic spread."

Those currently involved in the OTMS were appointed by the IB, without any competitive tender. Initially the slaughter rate paid to abattoirs was £87.50 a head then, after an independent audit, it was cut to £41 a head. But Opposition politicians insist that there is still excessive profiteering and that taxpayers money is being wasted.

Paul Tyler, Lib-Dem farm spokesman, has tabled a motion in Parliament demanding an immediate inquiry into the OTMS following a Channel 4 documentary on Dec 5. Mr Tyler said the programme demonstrated widespread waste and misallocation of public money and he urged the public accounts committee to launch an immediate inquiry, before the EU court of auditors decided to investigate. Shadow farm minister, Gavin Strang, described the OTMS as "a story of government chaos and confusion".

The payment rates for slaughterhouses had been set far too high, not only wasting public money, but allowing those involved to cross-subsidise other work and undercut slaughterhouses that were excluded from the scheme, he said.

The IB official insisted that it had always been governments intention to put the scheme out to tender eventually. And a tendering exercise took place earlier this year for incineration facilities for the OTMS.

Seventy-five firms expressed interest, with 8 eventually getting the green light from the IB to seek local authority planning approval. One incinerator is operating and the other seven are waiting for planning clearance.