3 August 2001
Virus clean-up resumes – with strings

By Donald MacPhail

FARMERS have been given the go-ahead to resume secondary foot-and-mouth cleansing and disinfecting — but under much tighter cost controls.

Under new conditions producers can tender to clean their own farms, strict contracts must be signed, and some existing contracts may be cancelled.

Producers and contractors who the government believes over-charged for work face the prospect of having to return payments.

And payments will be withheld where it is believed that cleansing and disinfecting cash was used to improve farm buildings beyond pre-virus levels.

Work was suspended last week after Tony Blair described costs in England and Wales, which in some cases exceeded 100,000 per farm, as “unacceptable”.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ordered a review as part of ongoing monitoring of all costs related to foot-and-mouth disease.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said work could restart on Friday (03 August) with bills likely to be reduced to an average cost of 36,000 per farm.

Mr Morley said: “The results of the review will mean substantial savings for the taxpayer.

“It will mean some existing cleansing and disinfecting contracts with contractors will be cancelled and others tightened.”

He warned: “In some cases payments may be reclaimed. Other charges have been deemed inappropriate and have been referred to our claims unit for determination.”

Farmers will be give the first opportunity to tender for the contracts to clean their own farms, said Mr Morley.

Contracts are being tightened, and will stipulate cost to completion, while guidelines on standards of cleansing will be re-assessed and set out.

DEFRA reserves the right to withhold payment where buildings are in an unreasonable condition and cleansing would effectively be “betterment”.

Payments can be withheld for dangerous buildings where the safety of those carrying out the work would be at risk, and where costs are disproportionate.

Mr Morley added: “In such cases the farmers would have to carry out cleaning and disinfection at all or part of their own expense or refrain from restocking their farms for 12 months under foot-and-mouth disease rules.”

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