Economist Rosemary Radcliffe (left) is chairing a joint government-industry working group looking at responsibility and cost-sharing.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in meeting Hilary Benn’s deadline for receiving your recommendations by the end of 2010?
The timetable is all right. We should be able to meet it although we will have to keep an eye on what is happening in Europe and how fast they are moving in terms of animal health, but I don’t see it will be much of an issue.
Q: Won’t the EU animal health strategy affect your work?
The Commission’s timetable indicates they might be coming forward with a pan-EU approach to animal health and welfare towards the end of next year.
We need to keep in touch with them and see how their thinking is developing and how our thinking can inform them and vice versa. We need to make sure our timetables are reasonably aligned and I am comforted because it looks like they probably are.
With a bit of luck we will have a fit, rather than a mismatch, which is encouraging.
Q: How will you encourage industry organisations to work together when they are all against cost-sharing and many are opposed to an independent body?
The people sitting around the table are representatives in that they belong to particular organisations but they are there as individuals.
We want to get the benefit of them sharing information and opinions – bringing to the group the views of their colleagues and stakeholders – but we also want them to feel they can take up a position that isn’t going to cause them to be crucified back at the ranch.
I’m not saying it will be easy, but unless you do that in public policy terms, all you end up with is a group of people shouting at each other, which isn’t really terribly productive because we have to achieve something.
It may well be a compromise. There are plenty of examples in public policy – and in other fields of human endeavour – where what you end up with is something everyone can live with but nobody was wildly enthusiastic about. That’s not a bad outcome – although I am not saying that is what we will do here.
Q: A draft Bill on responsibility and cost-sharing is expected to be laid before Parliament early next year. Isn’t this all a done deal?
I recognise that the publication of a draft Bill may engender an element of alarm among some stakeholders because they may feel that there’s no point having an independently chaired group doing all this work if the government is on the verge of publishing draft legislation. But the legislative process is long and a Bill can go through a lot of change between draft and enactment.
There is a long process of Bill scrutiny which is the reason why, if you want a new body at all, which we might by 2012, you really have to start the process now, otherwise you don’t have the time to do it. So it is not a done deal at all.
Q: DEFRA’s existing budget arrangements for animal health have been much criticised. How will you get to the bottom of them?
It is early days but I’m very mindful of the importance of this issue.
Trying to get to the bottom of numbers is what I have spend a large part of a long career doing. The DEFRA budget-holders are on the working group and I wanted them there because we need to find out who is spending how much and where.
Anyone who knows me wouldn’t expect me to say anything different. We may have to think of some interesting ways but we must get to the bottom of the figures because the industry – including farmers – is not going to trust any new system unless they can be confident that numbers with pound signs have been properly generated.
Q: What are your views on the government’s proposals affecting England only?
It would be completely witless not to take account of where the devolved authorities are and where they think they might want to go next. One of the things I want to do is go and see them and talk to them early so I can improve my own personal understanding of what the issues are and how they see things.
We are an island – going back to disease, the little bugs don’t notice the Scottish or Welsh borders as they hop across – and we’ve got to make sure that what we’re doing is something that we can make work.
Q: Are you looking at animal welfare as well as animal health?
We are not confined to looking at ways of coping with exotic disease outbreaks. We are looking at animal health in the round.
It is not just about diseases like foot-and-mouth, it is about issues such as lameness in cattle as well.
Q: Why should farmers have to share the cost of disease management when the government is doing so little to combat diseases such as bovine TB?
Certain things should be the government’s responsibility and other things should be animal keepers’ responsibility. The key is to work out what is an equitable, efficient and effective way of reaching a solution. But to say that the government – or taxpayers – should make no contribution would be foolish. It wouldn’t apply in any other area.
We will always have some part of this paid for out of general taxation.
Q: Is compulsory animal insurance on the agenda?
It’s a very interesting question. It’s too soon to tell what the group will say about insurance but I think it’s quite a tricky area.
I’m not saying that commercial underwriters wouldn’t have something to contribute to a solution; what I am saying is that it is a difficult problem in insurance terms, simply because there isn’t enough information to make a book.
Q: Will there be an increase in staff working under the new structure or will there be no net increase in costs, including personnel?
I can see exactly why you’re asking this question and I’m going to annoy you by saying it all depends.
It is going to be driven by what the new body has got to do. I have a completely open mind about that. It may be that some of the things currently being done somewhere shouldn’t be done at all. It may be that some things that aren’t being done should be done. And it may be that the priorities between the things that are being done should change.
Until you have an answer to those questions, I can’t say. But I can say that whatever you decide to do, you have to do it efficiently and effectively. This isn’t about gold-plating, or anything like that, it’s about getting the right resources in the right place to do the right job in the right way at a low a cost as we can.
Q: How big a driver is pressure on public finances?
In any area of public policy there is an element of pressure. But what I want the group to do is to work our way through to an appropriate answer.
If we end up saying we all have to scale back because the public contribution can’t be paid for, then we will have to have that debate then. But let’s work out the right way of doing it first.
RADCLIFFE IN A MINUTE:
Who inspires you?
I’ve enormous admiration for Elizabeth I. She inherited a range of problems that make the ones we have to deal with look like a cake-walk.
What was the last book you read?
The latest PD James novel – The Private Patient. As always, beautifully written.
I don’t watch either – although I have seen some of Strictly because the television was left on after Merlin and that I do watch.
What’s your favourite piece of music?
Tell us something not many people know
I have a half share in an allotment but I don’t do the design part of looking after it, just the digging and weeding.