Fears over vet agency move

DEFRA IS to go ahead with plans to turn the State Veterinary Service in to an executive agency despite serious concerns from vets and industry leaders.

In an announcement on Monday (Nov 29), DEFRA said the prospect had received broad backing from those that replied to the government consultation on the issue.

But the British Veterinary Association – which represents almost half of the veterinary profession – voiced several concerns about the practicality of such a move. 

“Our concerns are for the quality of feedback coming from grassroots to the chief veterinary officer who has to provide the minister with relevant and accurate advice, and it’s important that they don‘t become isolated,” said BVA president Bob McCracken.

“It will merely serve to accelerate the detachment of ministers from those on the ground who have to implement policy,” he added.

Officially, the SVS will become an executive agency from Apr 1, 2005, when it will receive the necessary additional services allowing it to operate as an executive of DEFRA. 

The change to the service will only take effect in Great Britain as there will be no change to the system in Northern Ireland which will remain under DEFRA administration.

Lib-Dem food and rural affairs spokesman Roger Williams was also disappointed by DEFRA‘s decision.

“The announcement confirms just how little this government cares about listening to the experts or carrying out genuine, democratic consultations,” said Mr Williams.

He feels the decision to change the status of the service was taken long before the consultation began when DEFRA advertised for a SVS chief executive two months before the consultation began in July 2004.

“I have deep concerns about the ability of the SVS to cope in the event of another epidemic but more importantly, who will be held accountable now that it has been placed at arm‘s length of ministerial responsibility. 

The consultation also considered incorporating other agencies such as the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

In addition, the government wanted to draw into the agency on-farm bodies such as the Egg Marketing Inspectorate and the Dairy Hygiene Inspectorate. 

But concerns that the new agency would be unable to successfully operate all these services from the outset forced DEFRA to postpone their inclusion, subject to a review at a later date.

Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said the creation of a new agency would help DEFRA achieve the aims of the Animal Health and Welfare strategy.