DEFRA has been accused of “dragging its feet” over plans to devolve animal health and welfare budgets, and the Scottish Government claims that “time is running out” if an agreement is to be in place by April 2010, as agreed.

DEFRA has been accused of “dragging its feet” over plans to devolve animal health and welfare budgets, and the Scottish Government claims that “time is running out” if an agreement is to be in place by April 2010, as agreed.

Despite holding 12 meetings with the devolved administrations, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has yet to propose a workable solution on devolving animal health and welfare funding.

Now, the Scottish Government and farming industry have united behind the need for an acceptable deal. Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead met with the Scottish farming industry to update it on plans to devolve budgets and said the UK Government must stop dragging its feet on the issue.

He said: “The current situation which provides the Scottish Government with responsibility for the policy but not the budget for animal health and welfare is agreed by all to be unacceptable.

“There is widespread consensus that these budgets should be devolved, including the independent review of the last foot-and-mouth outbreak and the UK’s own white paper on the Calman proposals. Working with the industry, devolution of these budgets would enable the Scottish Government to further strengthen this country’s international reputation for quality, boosting exports and profitability.”

“Despite a dozen meetings with DEFRA we are yet to receive a workable proposal. Indeed, only now are we starting to receive some of the figures. One sticking point remains their condition of wanting to pass on financial liability for all disease outbreaks, rather than continuing the current practice of such exceptional events being funded by the Treasury. Such a deal goes against the spirit of Calman, which recommended that contingency liability be retained at the UK level. We will be assessing the pros and cons and where this leave us with the industry.

Richard Lochhead“DEFRA’s handling of this situation leaves a lot to be desired and time is running out if a deal is to be agreed by April 2010. Beyond that the treasury squeeze on public spending means there may soon be no money left to devolve. However, our determination to move this issue forward is as strong as ever.”

NFU Scotland president Jim McLaren said: “It remains a frustrating anomaly of the Scottish devolution settlement that while decisions on animal health and welfare policy have been taken at Holyrood since 1999, the budget for delivering the policies remains with the Treasury. It is essential that a reasonable settlement is reached without further delays, and that Scotland receives its fair share of the UK budget to allow us to tackle Scotland’s animal health and welfare priorities.

“We have consistently argued for this to be addressed and included this issue in the evidence we supplied to the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution. Helpfully, the Calman report, published in June this year, recommended that the animal health and welfare budget be devolved from Westminster to sit with the policy in Scotland and it is disappointing that, despite Scottish Government efforts, little progress appears to have been made.

“Crucially, the Calman report also recognised that responsibility for the funding of exotic animal disease outbreaks, such as foot-and-mouth Disease, should remain a reserved matter, with access to the UK Treasury contingency fund. The justification for this reservation revolved around the fact that the Scottish Government does not have responsibility for controlling its borders, through which any exotic disease would need to pass in order to enter the country. Therefore, Scotland could not be expected to pay for the cost of such outbreaks. Calman’s recommendations on this matter must be recognised in any settlement agreed.”

A DEFRA spokesman told Vetsonline that the Secretary of State has just written to devolved colleagues to re-iterate his commitment both to the principle of financial devolution and to reaching an agreement that is acceptable to all.

He said: “The Secretary of State is seeking to inject further momentum into the discussions taking place in the cross-Administration Project Board established to take this remit forward. We will therefore continue to work with the devolved administrations towards our common aim of devolution of the animal health budgets.”


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