Scottish Ministers asked Professor Charles Milne to undertake an independent review to assess the animal health and welfare operational services delivered by Animal and Plant Health Agency(APHA) in Scotland and to consider whether it would be beneficial to retain some or all of the existing services or to create a Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS). The terms of reference of the review also required proposals for potential models for an SVS and to identify further work that would be required to support decision making.
The review methodology was based on desk-based analysis and face to face interviews. This was supplemented by written evidence provided by several organisations.
It is important to acknowledge that the GB approach to operational delivery of animal health and welfare services has been effective in meeting Scotland's needs for several decades. The transfer of animal health and welfare policy and legislative competence to the Scottish Parliament in 2000 as part of the devolution settlement is regarded as having been beneficial for the Scottish livestock industries but has inevitably led to divergence of policy which is likely to increase in a post Brexit era. APHA, as a Defra agency, is understandably focussed on Defra priorities currently the Godfray review, on bovine tuberculosis in England, and the Stacey review on farm inspection and regulation in England. This had resulted in concern that there is a lack of focus on Scottish priorities, a perception that was reinforced by a widespread unawareness within APHA of the Scottish Government's (SG) Animal health and welfare in the livestock industry: strategy 2016 – 2021.
A strength of APHA has been the centralisation of several functions including traceability and the issuing of export health certification. This has enabled the development of expertise and a consistency of service which has been well received by customers. In other areas the rigid application of processes has had a detrimental impact on Scotland. OV contracts, which are appropriate for practices in England which undertake considerable volumes of work associated with bovine tuberculosis, do not work well in Scotland where the reduced testing requirement consequential to Scotland's officially free status result in an uneconomic imbalance between income and the costs of training and validation. This has led to many practices disengaging from the agency with potentially detrimental impacts on surveillance and willingness to participate in disease response activities. SG has also experienced difficulty and cost in changing focus or priorities of field work which does not fit well with the agility demonstrated in policy development where, due to its small size, Scotland is able to work with stakeholders to deliver rapid change which enables it to deliver an ambitious animal health and welfare program.
Scottish livestock industries are reliant on both domestic and international market access. Considerable work has been undertaken within Scotland over many years to develop premium brands within terrestrial livestock and aquaculture production. These products are underpinned by animal health and welfare standards that are set above legal requirements and are validated by robust assurance schemes. SG has supported this approach through its animal health and welfare policies and in working in partnership with industry to improve the overall health status of Scottish livestock as exemplified by the current Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) eradication scheme. Industry stakeholders envisage that a Scottish Veterinary Service could be designed to better support this approach in the future.
In evaluating alternative models for delivery in Scotland consideration was given to the potential impact on our partner administrations within the UK. Any detrimental impact on international trade, disease response activity and access to evidence and expertise that is currently available and shared through the current arrangements would need to be managed.
Other considerations in the assessment of the proposed delivery models included the overall fit with animal health and welfare and wider relevant SG policies, agility and flexibility, delivery of shared responsibilities including surveillance, traceability, export health certification, consistency and management of cross border issues and potential cost.
Potential delivery opportunities of an SVS options were assessed. These included strengthening the reputation of Scotland's livestock industries through an innovative approach to policy development and delivery, increased collaboration and joined up working in Scotland, more efficient and consistent inspection and enforcement with reduced footfall on farms and the potential to develop a coherent and compelling narrative to support trade relating to Scotland's animal health and welfare systems.
Three options were considered:
- Retain current arrangements with APHA working with the agency to deliver improvements to address some of the shortcomings identified by this review;
- Create a Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS) which would undertake the functions currently delivered by APHA on behalf of Scottish Ministers; and
- Create a new SVS which would provide a bespoke model of delivery of animal health and welfare services in Scotland which would include the functions currently delivered by APHA on behalf of Scottish Ministers but could include wider responsibilities to drive synergy and effective delivery of operations services within the Scottish context.
Evaluation of the evidence available demonstrated that the development of a new bespoke SVS for the delivery of animal health and welfare services in Scotland would best address the deficiencies identified with the current arrangements and provide significant opportunities to benefit Scotland's livestock industries in the future.
To support this decision and to facilitate any changes agreed consequent to this review further work, identified in section 5 of this report, will be required.
The creation of a Scottish Veterinary Service presents an exciting opportunity to improve and modernise animal health and welfare operational delivery in Scotland. As part of the review process into current and potential arrangements in Scotland the following recommendations have been developed:
Recommendation 1 – the creation of a stand-alone Scottish animal health and welfare delivery body would best meet Scotland's long-term interests.
Recommendation 2 –the transition to a separate Scottish Veterinary Service provides an opportunity to deliver efficiencies and enhanced service excellence through the formation of a bespoke delivery body with a wider range of functions than that currently delivered by APHA in Scotland. Additional areas for consideration could include, but not be limited to; meat hygiene inspection, animal feed controls, scanning surveillance, aquatic disease control, bee health as well as a greater clarity and responsibility for farmed animal health and welfare enforcement.
Recommendation 3 - a Scottish Veterinary Service should report directly to the CVO Scotland.
Recommendation 4 – the CVO Scotland will require adequate support structures to manage these additional responsibilities including business and project management expertise.
Recommendation 5 – the transition to, and future maintenance of, the Scottish Veterinary Service will require adequate resourcing to ensure that the requirements of Scotland's important livestock and food and drink sectors are safeguarded.
Recommendation 6 – the remaining budgets held by Defra on a GB basis should be devolved to increase transparency, ensure alignment with policy, and allow effective management to ensure value for money.
Recommendation 7 – Scotland should continue to utilise the Pirbright and Weybridge UK refence laboratories for the diagnosis of exotic notifiable diseases. Suitable arrangements will need to be implemented to ensure that change does not have a negative impact on the ability of these laboratories to deliver these essential functions.
Recommendation 8 – further work will be required to ensure a successful transition to a new body with minimal risk to both Scotland and other UK administrations. This will include consideration of how functions including, traceability, Export Health Certification, the Operations Manual (some of which are currently centralised), will be delivered.
Recommendation 9 – documented agreements will need to be developed to ensure joined up delivery of surveillance, disease incursion response, trade agreements and the support for audits by trading partners.
Recommendation 10 – as part of the work to develop a future Scottish Veterinary Service consideration should be given to existing models in Northern Ireland and internationally. Models that address similar challenges, industry and trading patterns including the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand could provide valuable insights to inform this exercise.