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Planning on delivery

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THE ‘England Implementation Group’ (eig) was established by defra in June 2005 to ‘drive forward delivery of the vision and strategic aims of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (ahws) for Great Britain in England’. This is no mean task for a small group of individuals which meets just a few times a year: the environment in which the ahws is being introduced is changing rapidly and, as the group remarked in a progress report last November, delivery of the strategy will require a ‘fundamental shift’ in the attitude of the main protagonists, including animal owners, the food and farming industry, vets, government and the public (VR, December 2, 2006, vol 159, p 757). Seemingly undaunted, the eig has just published an ambitious work programme for April 2007 to March 2008.1 This sets out 10 objectives and the approaches being taken. Three years after the ahws was published, it also gives an indication of the scale of the challenges ahead.

A key objective will be to publish, by January 2008, a plan that sets out the actions that all key stakeholders are taking, or intend to take, to help move the strategy forward. An England Implementation Plan was published alongside the ahws in 2004, but this, the eig says, ‘was very much about what the Government was doing’. This time, it says, ‘We want a plan that shows what everyone is doing. We want to present in one place (for the first time), how the various industry sectors, government, vets and others are helping to implement the strategy and bring about long-term improvements to animal health and welfare. This will allow all, but especially us, to identify gaps and opportunities and to hold people to account against the things they said they will do.’

The original intention was to publish the plan in 2006/07 but, the eig says, it decided to wait until the various sectoral animal health and welfare bodies involved have ‘found their feet’. It intends to publish the plan as ‘a living document’ on its website (www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/ahws/eig/index.htm), which will be updated regularly.

A new and quite specific objective will be ‘to encourage and challenge the veterinary profession and defra to create a plan for the future provision of veterinary services in England’. In its progress report last November, the eig expressed concern that ‘in order to secure animal health and welfare objectives, access to veterinary services must be available to all’. It notes that the veterinary profession has been contemplating, with its partners, how it can secure a sustainable future for farm animal practices while playing a role in delivering the ahws, and says it would like the profession to have ‘a clear and coherent strategy that charts a way forward through its issues and opportunities’. It hopes that this can be achieved by the bva, rcvs and defra working together with renewed impetus through a revitalised Veterinary Services Group.

Another objective will be to encourage and facilitate the introduction of a sectoral approach for companion animals by March 2008.

Regarding the role of government, the eig intends to ensure that the strategy is reflected in how the Government delivers policy and, in particular, how it responds to an independent review of the ‘animal health and welfare delivery landscape’ that was commissioned by defra in November 2005 and completed in June last year. The review was undertaken by David Eves, former deputy director of the Health and Safety Executive. It provides an insightful and surprisingly readable analysis of the Government's arrangements for delivering animal health and welfare, concluding, among other things, that ‘the current delivery landscape is too complex and fragmented, and in need of reform’. It makes 55 recommendations for improvement and calls for the development of an integrated national animal health and welfare inspectorate with the State Veterinary Service (now Animal Health) at its core. This, the review suggests, is fundamental to improving the delivery arrangements as they stand.2

The eig says it will be challenging the Government on its delivery of the ahws over the next 12 months. Other objectives set out in its work programme concern responsibility and cost sharing, with emphasis on partnership working; regional implementation; health and welfare surveillance; animal welfare; the development of strategy indicators; and the extent to which market mechanisms, such as assurance schemes, might be used to stimulate improvements to the health and welfare of food animals. None of these are minor undertakings, and it is to be hoped that progress can be made.

Despite its grandiose title, the eig has limited powers. It can assess what is happening, encourage change and monitor progress. As the Eves report noted, it can also ‘name and shame’ those who fall short, but at the risk of losing goodwill. Ultimately, however, successful implementation of the strategy will depend on how others respond. In this respect, the eig's challenge to the veterinary profession is clear. As far as defra and the Government are concerned, belief in their commitment to partnership working has taken a bit of a battering of late, and they will have to work hard to dispel the impression that their idea of partnership is decidedly one way.

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