DEFRA bodies Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency will be merged as soon as possible, environment secretary Caroline Spelman said today. Mrs Spelman announced the merger as a result of a review of DEFRA’S arm’s length bodies – a “shake up” in line with the coalition Government’s commitments on service delivery.

DEFRA bodies Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency will be merged as soon as possible, environment secretary Caroline Spelman said today. Mrs Spelman announced the merger as a result of a review of DEFRA’S arm’s length bodies – a “shake up” in line with the coalition Government’s commitments on service delivery.

Caroline SpelmanMrs Spelman said: “These two agencies both work to combat animal diseases and by bringing together their services, expertise and scientific capability, we will improve our resilience and create a strong organisation that provides a range of services from on-farm advice and emergency response to the world-class laboratory work and science for which we are rightly recognised.

“The merger of Animal Health and VLA will go ahead shortly, with as little disruption to staff and customers as possible. A single chief executive for the new agency will be appointed this summer.”

The British Veterinary Association has given a cautious welcome to the merger. President Bill Reilly said: “On the face of it, there could be significant benefits in merging these two key animal health organisations. Already, at local and national levels, the two agencies are required to work closely and, if done properly, we could have one body that is completely committed to animal health.
 
“However, every veterinary surgeon will want reassurance the merger will not become another way to cut costs by reducing the number of people working on disease surveillance and research. It is vital that both organisations continue to deliver under the new body.
 
“The merger could have an impact on responsibility and cost-sharing plans, the tendering exercise for official veterinarian (OV) work, and the future of animal health delivery in the devolved administrations. The BVA is, therefore, calling for a wide consultation on how the merged organisation will work to ensure the best for the veterinary profession, farming community and all other interested organisations.”

Mrs Spelman also announced that the Commission for Rural Communities will be abolished under the shake-up, with a strengthened Rural Communities Policy Unit within Defra.

Mrs Spelman said: “I pay tribute to the commitment and quality of work undertaken by the Commission for Rural Communities, its staff, commissioners and chairman, the Rev Dr Stuart Burgess CBE, over the past four years.”

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