Following the publication of the Review of Field Delivery of Animal Health Services in Scotland in January 2020 Scottish Ministers accepted the recommendations contained within the report including the creation of a Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS) with a broadened range of functions (Option 3). However, the process of implementation was understandably delayed by pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time there has been increasing clarity of the implications arising from EU exit which, at the time of the initial report, were only informed opinion.
The Programme for Government 2021-22, A fairer, greener Scotland, committed that "Alongside the highest environmental standards in our marine and rural economies, we will ensure the highest standards of animal health and welfare, including the creation of a new dedicated Scottish Veterinary Service within this Parliament, to ensure there are highly trained staff to provide Scotland with good animal health and food safety to meet all our needs across the public and private sector for animal health issues".
Scottish Government commissioned a limited extension to the previous review to consider whether the developments since publication and the proposed reach of the manifesto commitment, might result in fundamental changes to the existing recommendations including the modification of Option 3 to encompass food safety and marine animals.
Whilst recognising that arrangements following EU exit still needed to be finalised in some areas, notably trade with Northern Ireland and import checks, there was an increased comprehension of the impacts of this transition. These were consistent with the concerns expressed in the 2020 report although the degree of impact is now better understood.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen marked changes to working practices and management approaches. Whilst many of these are short term changes some practices including hybrid working and an increased use of remote meetings and training are here to stay and need to be considered when designing the working practices of the SVS.
The suggestion to broaden the scope of SVS responsibilities to include food safety and marine animals was positively received. Such an approach was considered to provide improved industry and rural community support. Benefits including consistency of operational delivery, enforcement, training, communication and data capture and processing were recognised. Enhanced career opportunities and disease response capability were also considered positive outcomes. Some concerns were expressed regarding the impact of change on morale with the potential to lose staff and also the possible increase in cost as functions that are currently not being delivered are captured. The need to conserve current good practice was identified.
There was also broad agreement that animal welfare enforcement of the food producing species should form part of the remit of this organisation, and that the current position of separating health and welfare responsibilities is not optimal.
In conclusion a modified Option 3, an integrated bespoke SVS, was the preferred model which was considered to best meet Scotland's operational delivery needs.
The following recommendations are based on the results of the extension to the 2020 review and should be considered alongside the recommendations contained within that report:-
Recommendation 1 – the recommendations of the 2020 review remain valid and subject to the addition of the recommendations below there are no fundamental reasons to modify these.
Recommendation 2 – consideration should be given to the following activities being delivered by the SVS:
- terrestrial and aquatic animal health
- bee health
- food safety including meat inspection, wild and farmed fish certification and shellfish monitoring and area closures
- welfare enforcement of food production animals
- import checks including border inspection post operations
Recommendation 3 – a steering group should be formed, including representation from the organisations affected, to finalise the design of the SVS and to manage the transition until vesting.
Recommendation 4 – consideration of the developing landscape in trade with Northern Ireland, and imports in general, will be necessary in taking this work forward.
Recommendation 5 – changes to working practices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and arrangements to mitigate the impact of future events should inform the structural and operational design of the new body.
Recommendation 6 – participating organisations will need to put in place interim arrangements to manage the consequences of EU exit until the SVS is operational.
Recommendation 7 – an effective communication strategy will need to be implemented to communicate the benefits of change and to keep all organisations updated with progress.
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