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Integrate and deliver

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IT's hard to get excited by such things but, compared with most documents emanating from government, a recent review of England's animal health and welfare delivery arrangements is a rip-roaring read.

The review was commissioned by defra in November 2005 and published without much fanfare in June last year.1 It was undertaken by David Eves, former deputy director of the Health and Safety Executive, who was asked to review ‘the roles, responsibilities and relationships in regulatory and enforcement activities for animal health and welfare in England undertaken by local authorities, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Rural Payments Agency and the State Veterinary Service’. His report is concerned with the systems and structures in place for implementing the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (ahws) in Great Britain and, as such, should be of interest to anyone concerned with taking the strategy forward.

On the basis of interviews with policymakers, delivery partners, stakeholders and ‘customers’, as well as observations in the field, the report draws a number of conclusions, most notably, perhaps, that ‘the animal health and welfare delivery landscape is too complex and fragmented, and in need of reform’. In the process, it makes some interesting observations on the arrangements as things stand, noting, for example, that the animal health and welfare delivery landscape is made up of ‘a multiplicity of partners of various sizes and kinds, with different cultures, powers and attitudes towards enforcement, under differing political pressures, located separately in numerous geographical locations’. It is intended to work within an agreed national strategy for achieving defined policy outcomes, but, the report says, ‘is not capable in its present form of being managed as an entity, nor is it delivering consistent results efficiently or effectively’.

The report talks of a ‘silo mentality’ in parts of the landscape, with some delivery partners suggesting that their own part of the system was working satisfactorily but that the rest of the system was ‘dysfunctional’. Resources, particularly staff, were under strain throughout, with many managers and staff working under great pressure, ‘typically “fighting fires” while trying to keep up with routine tasks’. All delivery partners were undergoing considerable change which, while necessary, was not primarily focused on achieving better policy outcomes. Managers were ‘much engrossed’ in improving business systems which, while also necessary, could be a distraction from achieving the desired results.

The delivery system itself was ‘not robust’ and the Eves report talks of ‘an intricate web’ of service level agreements and memoranda of understanding being spun in the hope that this would bind the system together. It suggests that these need to be simplified and pulled together into common ownership on behalf of defra if they are to be seen and act as positive influences encouraging joined up delivery and ‘not simply as “back covering” exercises’.

In short, the Eves report was not over-impressed with the animal health and welfare delivery arrangements as things stand, and made 55 recommendations aimed at strengthening the system and bringing it under proper control. Key among these would be the development of an integrated national animal health and welfare inspectorate, with the State Veterinary Service (now Animal Health) at its core. It also suggested that the role of vets within the svs should be clarified with regard to enforcement and support for other enforcers, and that a chief enforcement officer should be appointed within the svs to set standards.

defra is now consulting on the report's recommendations, and has invited comments by September 14. In the meantime, the England Implementation Group, which has been asked by defra to drive forward the ahws in England, has indicated that it will be keeping a close eye on how the Government responds (see VR, May 19, 2007, vol 160, p 673).

Like many ‘digested reads’, the consultation document, which was posted on defra's website on June 14,2 is a relatively bland affair, and anyone responding to the request for comments would do well also to refer to the original report. The consultation document reduces Eves' recommendations to a number of broad themes, and outlines the steps the Government plans to take. It also gives what it describes as ‘detailed responses’ to the 55 recommendations. Some of these are reasonably specific, but others, including the response to the recommendation for an integrated animal health and welfare inspectorate, are vague and non-committal. Because of this, it is not altogether clear how the Government intends to take the recommendations forward. What is clear, however, is that the outcome could have a significant bearing on vets' position in the scheme of things in the future.

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