TB testing standards could slip under sole service provider

The unsuccessful bidders who lost out on a Defra contract to provide TB testing of cattle in England have warned farmers services could be compromised.

Xperior Farm Health withdrew its legal challenge against Defra on Thursday (5 February) after it lost a tendering process to provide TB testing services in England.

Xperior director Matt Dobbs said the withdrawal was due to the “aggressive timetable” set by Defra to gather evidence supporting their case.

See also: Legal challenge to Defra TB testing tender award

Now it’s likely the contract for all five lots in England will be awarded, as originally announced by Defra, to rival veterinary company XL Farmcare.

Phil Elkins, veterinary director of Xperior Farm Health, said XL Farmcare’s payment rates were “considerably lower” than theirs, which he claimed could threaten the quality of the TB testing service it provides. Details of these, however, and Xperior’s rates remain undisclosed.

Mr Elkins explained: “The consequence would be either unfairly low payment rates for official veterinarians who conduct TB testing, or an influx of inexperienced vets, potentially from other countries, into low paid positions.

“The loss of TB testing income would also challenge the viability of some rural veterinary businesses and the relationships held with their clients.”

Mr Elkins said Xperior’s bid positioned the price point at a level still viable for other practices to continue and believes XL is going against a key principle of the scheme.

“Delivery partners are expected to maintain a flow of TB testing work and revenue to contribute to the capability of the veterinary profession in rural areas to support food security and the rural economy.”

Concerns have also been raised about having a single veterinary group as the delivery partner.

Xperior Farm Health believes the lack of genuine competition between delivery partners means farmers could see much reduced quality of service, potentially delivered by unfamiliar vets rather than their own vet whom they know and trust.

But an APHA spokesman said: “APHA is confident in the robustness of the procurement process and that the selected bidders are the best candidates to deliver this vital service in the most effective way.

A legal challenge meant we have not been in a position to award contracts for the five regions covering England. Once legal processes have been completed and contracts issued we will announce the award. We expect to be able to do this shortly.”

See more