Section 4 - Analysis of options
Several issues have been identified and have been considered in determining the feasibility of the options identified.
16 Delivery of Scottish policies and priorities
16.1 It is important that the organisation delivering animal health and welfare policy in Scotland is cognisant and responsive both to animal health and welfare policy but also the wider related SG policies including those relating to food and drink, food and health, sustainable economic growth, climate change and policies relating to public bodies in Scotland.
17 Impact on trade
17.1 International negotiations and trade agreements are currently a reserved matter on which Defra leads. Trade is undertaken on a UK basis and is underpinned by our animal health status as well as our surveillance, traceability and regulatory and enforcement systems. In trade discussions with other countries, and during the management of trade missions, it is essential that the UK can present a coherent and compelling narrative of how our trading partners requirements are being met.
17.2 Whilst it is important to recognise that there is currently significant variation across the UK in terms of legislation, enforcement, delivery and our underpinning systems which can present challenges to the UK narrative, the trade implications for Scotland and our UK partners must be an important consideration in determining the outcome of this review.
18 GB as a single epidemiological unit
18.1 The concept of the GB single epidemiological unit is often used as an argument to maintain the status quo. It is the case that the significant movements of animals throughout GB, particularly during some periods of the year, do present a risk of spreading animal diseases. Similarly, production and food chains are not defined by borders and can provide biosecurity risks. This was a key factor that prevented Scotland seeking 'Regionalisation' during the 2007 FMD outbreak as, despite the disease being contained within SE England, the complexity of managing the trade practices across the border were impractical and not cost effective.
18.2 However, there remain clear differences in the distribution of several animal diseases across GB. Scotland is officially free of bovine tuberculosis unlike significant parts of England and Wales. On the other hand, Scotland has a higher incidence of E. coli O157 than the rest of GB. The concept of a single epidemiological unit does not prevent animal disease control programs, such as the current BVD program, being initiated earlier in Scotland, or differently in different parts of GB. Neither does the presence of multiple delivery bodies on the Island of Ireland or on mainland Europe provide insurmountable difficulties in managing epidemic animal diseases across borders. Consequently, the concept of GB as a single epidemiological unit does not present a compelling argument against change. What is required is an understanding of the risks and a commitment within those organisations responsible for animal health within GB and Northern Ireland to co-operate in mitigating those risks for their mutual benefit. It will be important as part of any process to manage this aspect of change appropriately.
19 Emergency response
19.1 Important lessons from previous outbreaks of exotic epidemic animal diseases include the need to maintain vigilance, be prepared, react with speed, apply a risk-based approach and to respect local knowledge.
19.2 The impact of any change to the current delivery model on the ability to address these lessons and to respond effectively to emergencies including exotic disease incursions is a key consideration in determining a future delivery option. Existing arrangements have served well although it is recognised that continual improvement is required not least due to evolving disease threats and the opportunities afforded by emerging technologies.
19.3 Recently APHA has responded to several small animal disease outbreaks, including the Avian Influenza outbreak near Dunfermline in 2016, which it has handled effectively. APHA has also improved strategic and tactical planning at a GB level. However, centralisation of planning has resulted in local staff reporting that they feel unsighted and the lack of contact with local stakeholders undermines field staff's confidence in the organisations ability to manage a more significant response.
19.4 Disease exercises are an important element of preparedness, Scottish stakeholders reported reduced involvement in exercises over recent years. Comment was also received that exercises tend to concentrate on one period, the immediate response to a report case, rather than examine the differing challenges within all stages of a response. This trend has resulted in reduced engagement with local stakeholders and a consequent reduction in local knowledge.
19.5 The reducing levels of expertise and capability in the field, due to the rapid turnover of veterinary and technical staff resulting in a dearth of experienced leadership is a significant concern that will impact on APHA's preparedness and ability to respond swiftly and effectively to a significant epidemic disease incursion. The reduced willingness of staff to go on 'detached duty', the move towards corporatisation of private veterinary practice and the disengagement with practitioners in the remote areas of Scotland could, unless managed, also provide challenges in mounting an effective response. It is difficult not to conclude that, at an operational level, the level of preparedness for a significant disease event is significantly less than was the case in 2001.
19.6 Scotland has historically been a 'net exporter' of resource to support disease eradication responses south of the border. This trend continues as demonstrated by the number and location of incursions of exotic disease within the UK since 2005.
19.7 Scotland also has a demonstrated track record of effective disease control management and response which was recognised in the inquiries into both the 2001 and 2007 FMD outbreaks. Outbreaks of Newcastle disease, Avian Influenza, an incursion of brucellosis and the threat of Bluetongue have also been managed professionally in Scotland over the last two decades.
19.8 Much has been made of the ability to support small exotic disease outbreaks from within the GB pool of staff irrespective of location within GB. Whilst this is simple to manage within a single organisation with consistent systems and processes the move to a separate delivery body in Scotland would not preclude co-operation of this manner. Not least as there are significant benefits in mitigating the risks of the spread of disease to other parts of the UK, the impact on trade as well as the opportunity for the development of staff. In addition, it should be clear that there is a benefit in assisting other administrations on the understanding that such support would be available when required in the home administration. These considerations should encourage a co-operative approach between administrations in the future.
19.9 Other countries, for example Australia, manage this issue effectively through forward planning and national agreements. In Australia animal health delivery services are the responsibility of the individual jurisdictions. National agreements, managed by Animal Health Australia, set out the agreed response plans for different animal diseases and cost sharing agreements which ensure that jurisdictions and industry who benefit from the controls implemented contribute to the cost of those controls.
19.10 For more significant outbreaks it is less likely that support could or would be widely shared within government delivery services due to the local pressures that would need to be managed including the investigation of report cases, on farm follow up of tracings, implementation of licencing controls as well as the management of communications including stakeholder liaison. In these circumstances other options such as activating the international reserve and accessing veterinarians from other disciplines such as general practice, universities, industry through pre-agreed contracts would be utilised.
19.11 It is arguable that current arrangements come with some organisational risk in this space. For example, FMD in 2001 was initially confirmed in England and a significant proportion of the Scottish animal health staff were sent south of the border to assist with the response. When, subsequently, disease was identified in Scotland these staff were not relocated back to Scotland leaving operations under resourced to the detriment of the Scottish response.
20 National reference laboratories
20.1 There is a consistent view that Scotland should continue to utilise the national reference laboratory function of Weybridge (and although not within APHA, Pirbright) on the grounds of maintaining a centre of expertise and that the cost of replicating the infrastructure that would be required would be disproportionate. The Weybridge facility provides national reference services for antimicrobial resistance, animal by products feed testing, tuberculosis and a range of diagnostics for other exotic bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases.
20.2 APHA management have expressed the view that if a separate Scottish Veterinary Service were to be formed and that Scotland wished to continue to utilise the services provided by Weybridge then this should be on a contractual and not on a pay as you go basis. This would allow certainty for business planning and continued investment in diagnostic development.
20.3 Austerity has impacted on the reference laboratories and the support of the devolved administrations is perceived as helpful when Defra approach the treasury for investment in the Weybridge facility. Changing operational arrangements should not impact on that support in the future.
21 Sharing of expertise
21.1 One of the strengths of the GB model is the access to expertise across administrations through the various laboratories and institutes, technical and field based or from programs such as EPIC. It will be important maintain and build on existing arrangements to ensure continuing benefit for all parties. Continued membership of UK forums such as the National Emergency Epidemiological Group (NEEG) and the field epidemiology group will assist in managing this issue. A strong collaborative approach will be required not least where there are areas of specialist knowledge held within one of the administrations. Lessons from the creation of FSS will be important in managing any change to animal health and welfare arrangements.
22 Flexibility/response time to changing Scottish policy or priorities
22.1 Scotland's size and small stakeholder community have enabled decisions regarding animal health and welfare to be taken and implemented quickly. This ability is important to manage emerging risks both to animal disease but also market sensitive concerns. The current model is perceived to be less responsive than it could be and that this review is seen as an opportunity to address this.
23 Regulation and enforcement
23.1 Regulation and enforcement, particularly in the area of animal welfare, is currently perceived as being disjointed, heavy handed and less effective than it could and should be. Enforcement is delivered by several government organisations, including local authorities, Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA with no overarching strategy and suboptimal co-ordination of delivery. A recent initiative of embedding APHA enforcement officers in the FSS food crime unit has proved successful and could be expanded.
23.2 Local authorities are facing considerable financial challenges which in some cases has resulted in significant reduction to animal health and welfare enforcement. APHA has experienced a loss of experience and expertise which has also impacted on enforcement capability.
23.3 The lack of advice and immediate severe financial penalties through cross compliance was highlighted by industry as an area of concern, as was the lack of consistency of enforcement action which is perceived as unfair and dependent on locality.
23.4 Increasingly welfare standards are becoming a requirement for market access and trade, the EU is currently introducing welfare requirements for third countries. The current piecemeal approach to animal welfare enforcement could present a real risk to national access to markets in the future.
23.5 It is timely to review the approach to farm regulation and a move to establish an SVS could provide the opportunity to consider the possibility of brigading farm animal health and welfare enforcement within a single organisation which could provide strategic delivery based on better regulation principles. Such an approach could provide graduated response from advice through a spectrum of sanctions retaining prosecution as a last resort or for significant non compliances.
23.6 The Farm Inspection and Regulation Review chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey, albeit a report on farm regulation in England, provides valuable analysis on this subject.
24.1 The issue of consistency is commonly raised by stakeholders. It is recognised that customers value a consistent approach both across borders but also within Scotland. Historically, the five Animal Health Divisional Offices in Scotland operated semi autonomously resulting in concerns being expressed relating to an uneven approach between areas. This impacted particularly on businesses that operated in more than one Animal Health Division. APHA has introduced management structures that have actively provided increased consistency. This initiative has also involved the centralisation of some functions for example export health certification, which has been well received by exporters.
24.2 However, whilst there has been recognition of some benefits of adopting a consistent approach concerns have been raised that a single approach does not fit all circumstances. An example often quoted is the current approach to the agency's engagement with local practitioners. In some of the remote parts of Scotland many practices have decided not to undertake OV work due to the high costs of training and validation and the low volume of work made available, due in part to the reduced bovine tuberculin testing requirement arising from Scotland's success in achieving officially TB free status. This disengagement has a potentially negative impact on passive surveillance as well as increasing the likelihood that practitioners from these areas may not provide support to future disease incursion responses.
24.3 There is also the sense of an opportunity missed in remote areas in that it is difficult for APHA to provide a comprehensive on call service particularly out of hours. Experience in other countries suggest that there are potential advantages in government services working closely with practitioners to reduce response times and to provide a triage approach to the identification of notifiable disease and welfare issues. This approach not only delivers benefits for government but helps provide support and critical mass for practices in remote areas which are often operating under severe economic pressure. APHA has put in place alternative arrangements in Orkney which could be used as a model for delivery in other parts of Scotland.
24.4 In considering a future approach in Scotland there is a real opportunity to evaluate the contribution that private practitioners can make to delivering government outcomes. This may include the possibility of a synergistic approach to the future delivery of the Highlands and Islands Veterinary Services Scheme (HIVSS) with government services.
24.5 Other concerns raised with the consistency approach were that the Operations Manual, the mechanism for providing instructions to field staff, frequently did not reflect differences in Scottish legislation and policy and that where different delivery arrangements/priorities were required in Scotland these involved processes that were often slow to deliver.
25.1 The cost of delivery will clearly be an important consideration. It has proved very difficult to generate an accurate estimation of the costs of a future organisation as any estimate is extremely sensitive to the breadth of role and function and how a new model is organised and managed.
25.2 There may be value in considering whether an alternative funding approach is appropriate for a new organisation. Full cost recovery for services including the issuing of export health certification, approval of businesses for export has been suggested. One industry representative went further proposing that an SVS should be partially funded through an industry levy.
26 Option 1 - Retain current arrangements with APHA
26.1 The current model of delivery of animal health and welfare services in Scotland has a track record of meeting its statutory responsibilities and of managing small incursions of exotic animal disease effectively. The advantages of retaining this approach centre around consistency in terms of the processes within GB but also in the development of the narrative to support international trade. Additionally, the ready access to and sharing of expertise is a strength although changing the delivery model does not preclude arrangements being agreed to ensure this approach going forward. Emergency preparedness at the strategic and tactical level are strong although operational preparedness, as evidenced by the reduced capability and capacity within Scotland and the reduced engagement with local stakeholders, is demonstrably weak. Current arrangements for emergency response in terms of field operations, surveillance and traceability are tried and tested and would need to be actively managed under a new approach.
26.2 However, several concerns were identified that would need to be addressed if SG decided to continue with this model of delivery.
26.3 There is a widely held perception that as a Defra agency, APHA are primarily focussed on English policies and priorities and that can result in a 'brake' being applied to progress in Scotland. Current priorities for APHA are delivering Brexit, which is clearly a UK issue, and the Godfray and Stacey reviews which are England only exercises. There is also a lack of cognisance within APHA of the Scottish Governments priorities, for example, there is limited awareness of the SG Animal Health and Welfare in the Livestock Industry: Strategy 2016 to 2021, a key document setting out ministerial expectations in Scotland. Providing formal arrangements for SG to have a role in the governance of APHA could assist in addressing these concerns.
26.4 APHA has implemented structures and processes to manage engagement with SG including the appointment of a relationship manager who is the APHA primary point of contact with SG. There are regular monthly and quarterly meetings with the CVO Scotland team to manage day to day business and Scottish issues are regularly discussed by the APHA board and the senior management team. There is less access to Ministers in Scotland when compared to Wales where the APHA management meet with the Agriculture Minister every six months to discuss priorities and progress whereas no such meeting had occurred in Scotland since the APHA was formed in 2014.
26.5 APHA does not have a strategic plan but is covered by the overarching Defra agency strategic plan which covers 32 organisations. Nor is there an APHA GB or Scottish business plan available to articulate current priorities and set out the direction of travel and how priorities are to be delivered. It is therefore difficult to assess how the work of APHA aligns with the policy priorities outlined in the SG strategy.
26.6 A further risk with current arrangements is that whilst the Scottish funding for APHA has remained constant for the past few years while Defra funding has reduced. This trend, if continued, will inevitably have a negative impact on delivery in Scotland as the core capability of APHA is reduced.
26.7 There appears to be difficulty experienced in embedding Scottish priorities into the work of APHA including redirecting staff activity to Scottish priorities as the processes for delivering change can be long and convoluted. The Operations Manual does not always reflect Scottish policy and legislation and GB wide policies such as the employment of OVs are not always fit for purpose in Scotland not least due to the challenges of engaging with practices in remote areas.
26.8 Scotland has traditionally been able to benefit from its small size enabling it to be agile and flexible in responding to challenges and adapting to change. Current arrangements do not appear to facilitate this way of working.
26.9 Local stakeholder engagement has been impacted by the centralisation of functions. This has undermined local relationships that are so important in managing emergency responses, particularly in remote areas. Further work would be required if this model were to be maintained to rebuild this engagement.
26.10 It is difficult to envisage a solution, within the current model, to the current recruitment and retention issues that have undermined capability within APHA in Scotland. The decrease in staff numbers and loss of expertise through the rapid turnover of staff leaves Scotland vulnerable to events out with business as usual including a significant disease incursion. Similarly, the lack of engagement with private practitioners particularly in the remote areas of Scotland has potentially negative impacts on surveillance and the willingness to support disease responses.
26.11 It would be difficult within current arrangements to modernise and streamline animal health and welfare enforcement in Scotland. This would be a missed opportunity to strengthen current arrangements to achieve increased effectiveness, consistency and to underpin Scotland's world-famous premium brands.
26.12 The CVO Scotland is accountable to the Scottish Parliament for animal health and welfare policy and delivery in Scotland. The current model does not provide the CVO with adequate transparency, clear lines of responsibility for delivery and the ability to easily refocus activities to address changing priorities.
26.13 This option would be largely cost neutral although investment could be considered to address the reduced capability within Scotland over the last decade which will impact on any future response activity.
26.14 Maintaining the status quo is a viable option but would not realise many of the benefits identified in the alternative models proposed.
27 Option 2 - Create a Scottish Veterinary Service which would undertake the functions currently delivered by APHA
27.1 The creation of an SVS delivering the current animal health and welfare responsibilities of APHA in Scotland would align delivery with the devolved animal health and welfare policy competence of Scottish Ministers. It would enable an enhanced focus on Scottish priorities and provide transparency and clear accountability, authority and responsibility for the CVO Scotland on animal health and welfare matters and to build on the strong 'One Health' approach that exists in Scotland. Funding of an SVS would be the responsibility of SG and less likely to be impacted by reduced funding in other administrations.
27.2 The principle of establishing an SVS was broadly supported by stakeholders who considered that it would provide additional focus on Scottish issues, improved collaborative working and a vehicle for targeted investment to support the livestock industries.
27.3 Scotland's favourable bovine tuberculosis status means that an SVS would not be distracted by what is the major disease challenge in England and Wales. Rather it could concentrate on Scottish priorities including the control of endemic diseases including BVD which would enhance its disease status and support Scotland's premium brands and access to international markets. Scotland has a history of progressive animal health policies which have been developed in close collaboration with industry, an SVS would be well placed to support this approach in the future. Scotland's size and relatively small stakeholder community have enabled an agile and flexible approach to animal health and welfare challenges in the past. An SVS would enhance this approach not least by reducing the current bureaucracy required to change priorities and/or focus.
27.4 International markets provide important outlets for Scottish producers. An SVS would ensure that responsibility and accountability for meeting the requirements of these markets sits within Scotland. As international trade is based on UK agreements it will be important that in the creation of a new body arrangements are agreed that both safeguard the other administrations who would be negatively impacted if Scotland did not meet its obligations and also to ensure that the new arrangements can be clearly articulated within the narrative that the UK has developed to explain our animal health and welfare systems and enforcement to the WTO, OIE and trading partners.
27.5 Disease response capability and arrangements are important considerations. An SVS will need to develop strong links with APHA, Defra, and the Welsh and Northern Irish Administrations to manage cross border incidents and to ensure that requirements for control strategies and proof of freedom are consistent with international expectations. Much of that structure exists currently but needs to be formalised and documented going forward to give comfort to all administrations.
27.6 Stronger links with the SG emergency planning machinery and the rebuilding of operational preparedness including stakeholder networks could be enhanced under the SVS model. Concern has been expressed regarding the reduction in disease preparedness exercises involving partner organisations and stakeholders and the narrowness of scope. There is a desire for pan Scotland emergency exercises in which an SVS would be well placed to participate.
27.7 An important opportunity will be the ability to address the recruitment and retention issues thereby increasing capability and allowing improved succession planning. An SVS will also be able to determine the response capability that is required to manage the animal health risks to Scotland.
27.8 There is no argument on either capability or value for money to replicate in Scotland the existing UK reference laboratory infrastructure at Weybridge, Lasswade or Pirbright. Several budgets currently fund this work, some have been devolved and some held on a GB basis.
27.9 For accountability and to ensure transparency it is recommended that all remaining GB budgets are devolved. To allow APHA to manage the reference laboratory and research work and to invest in developing testing and other technology contracts should be developed to articulate the services required and the SG financial commitment for this work.
27.10 A key risk in establishing an SVS is to ensure adequate access to technical expertise. Due to the specialist nature of the work in state veterinary medicine there are often few individuals with specialist expertise across the administrations. It is in the interests of all administrations that this is managed effectively going forward. There are already several forums that provide access to the expertise necessary to manage business as usual as well as response activity. Arrangements need to be agreed to manage this resource in the future. It is likely that the Veterinary Adviser requirement within the CVO unit will need to be increased to provide technical support, training and policy advice to operations staff within the SVS.
27.11 APHA has consolidated several functions including traceability, export health certification, VENDU and management of the Operations Manual. In transitioning to an SVS these functions need to be managed. It should be the long-term aim that these functions are brought within the SVS but there may be value in purchasing some or all these functions in the short term. ScotEID will be the repository for all animal movements in Scotland, when cattle are fully integrated, in the summer of 2021. At that point it would be appropriate for tracing work within Scotland to be co-ordinated within the SVS including the work currently undertaken by the Scottish Animal Movement Unit in Dumfries.
27.12 Corporate support including HR, finance and IT will be required for an SVS and it is envisaged that this would be provided through the existing SG arrangements. It will be important that IT systems required for disease management, surveillance and traceability have the capability to communicate effectively between administrations to ensure effective working both on an ongoing basis but importantly during responses.
27.13 An SVS which mirrors the functions currently delivered by APHA, as a stand-alone body, is less likely to be able to effectively implement revised and efficient enforcement arrangements that could be delivered by the bespoke model proposed in Option 3.
27.14 The on-going cost of this option is difficult to quantify but should not be materially different from current costs. There will be one-off costs associated with the set-up of the new organisation including IT and pension liability, Overhead costs are likely to increase but efficiencies will be realised through the ScotEID program. Decisions on staff complement and disease preparedness will also impact on the overall cost.
28 Option 3 - Create a new Scottish Veterinary Service which provides a bespoke model of delivery of animal health and welfare services in Scotland
28.1 There was strong support from Scottish stakeholders for the creation of an SVS with a clear consensus that SG should take the opportunity to create a bespoke Scottish organisation that covered a full range of animal health, veterinary public health and welfare delivery responsibilities providing a co-ordinated farm to fork approach. The key drivers were seen to be consistency, both geographically as well as in implementation across inspectorate functions, resilience, co-ordination and business efficiency. It was also considered that such a co-ordinated approach would support international market access and provide a coherent and logical approach to operational delivery, inspection and enforcement in Scotland. Such an approach could provide the opportunity to redefine the relationship between government and industry which could lead to greater ownership and proactivity by the livestock sector.
28.2 There was no single view on what functions such a bespoke service would encompass but the following responsibilities were raised as functions that could reside within such an organisation:
- Operations currently delivered by APHA;
- FSS meat inspection and shellfish toxin testing;
- SRUC surveillance;
- LA animal health and welfare enforcement;
- Poultry Inspection;
- RPID Scottish Animal Movement Unit and the rabies officer;
- Fish Health; and
- Bee Health.
28.3 In addition, there was consensus that the creation of a bespoke SVS provided an opportunity to review the relationship with private practitioners including engagement through the HIVSS and Official Veterinarian network, and to build on existing relationships with Universities, Health Protection Scotland, SEPA and the Border Force.
28.4 Many of the opportunities and challenges for this option mirror those in Option 2, however, there are some additional compelling arguments to support a bespoke Scottish SVS. Amalgamation of bodies working in this space will result in a more consistent approach with better resource utilisation and will deliver synergies and efficiencies. Industry has long argued that there are inefficiencies in meat inspection as there are no alternative functions within FSS to allocate staff to when they are not being utilised full time. Similarly, with the challenges of geography inspectors from different organisations can be dispatched to different tasks within the same remote area involving duplication of travel time. The larger organisation would be better able to manage emergency responses from within its own resources.
28.5 Stakeholders also thought that there would be valuable data sharing and learning opportunities between the different constituent parts of a new organisation and some sectors expressed the view that access to veterinary expertise to augment the service provided by their current inspectorate would add significant value.
28.6 Option 3 would also provide an organisation that could provide increased job satisfaction through broader roles as well as clearer career structures with more opportunity for advancement. The transition to the SG family would also enhance career opportunities for administrative staff. These benefits would assist recruitment and retention as well as allowing improved management of succession planning.
28.7 A bespoke SVS also provides the opportunity for a fundamental rethink of inspection and enforcement within the animal health and welfare space. Many stakeholders are concerned that current arrangements are piecemeal, vary between locations, are inconsistent, do not comply with better regulation principles and result in multiple footfall on individual premises. Bringing inspection and enforcement responsibilities together within a single centre of expertise would allow the development of capability, ensure uniformity of approach including consistency with better regulation principles, drive synergies and efficiency and reduce the number of visits to premises. Such an arrangement would allow clear lines of communication and delineation of responsibilities with non-government organisations including the Scottish SPCA. An effective inspection and enforcement body would also support Scotland's animal health and welfare claims which underpin international market access including trade in our premium brands.
28.8 Whilst this option is more challenging and will require considerable effort to deliver the benefits identified the resulting organisation will deliver significantly better outcomes for the Scottish livestock industry and consumers. Neither is such an approach unprecedented with similar arrangements to those being proposed in place in Northern Ireland and internationally.
28.9 Option 3 will require additional funding although the quantum is difficult to determine without agreeing the constituent parts of the organisation and analysing what, if any resources would accompany a transfer of responsibilities. Overheads to support corporate functions will be required, however, efficiencies will result in savings that could contribute to the overall budget of the organisation.