Hope in sight of political resolution over animal health

ALTHOUGH there has been no official announcement, it is believed the long-running saga of trying to link up animal health policies in Scotland and the UK government department that foots the bill has now made a major step towards resolution.

The anomaly has been seen as holding back the Scottish Government, which has highlighted its desire to tackle several of the major cattle and sheep diseases in the country.

NFU Scotland had made it one of its aims to resolve this vexed question prior to the general election, but it was unsuccessful with the then UK government not wishing to deal with the problem.

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Now a meeting between the Scottish Cabinet secretary for rural affairs and his recently- appointed counterpart in England appears to have broken the deadlock.

The proposal is likely to see an animal health stakeholders group being established, with the purpose of setting out a programme of health priorities for the livestock industry.

Those involved will include representatives from NFU Scotland, the National Sheep Association, the National Beef Association and the Scottish Beef Cattle Association. Also likely to be involved are the chief veterinary officer in Scotland and other representatives of the veterinary profession, possibly through the Scottish Agricultural College.

To provide the scientific knowledge for the group, invites will also go to the Moredun research Institute.

Once this stakeholders group has established an animal health programme for Scotland agreed by the Scottish Government, then this will be presented to the department for the environment and rural affairs, along with a request for funding.

If that is agreed, then the transfer of responsibility will take place. One potential problem will no doubt hinge on the financial equation. Defra was not one of the departments singled out by the Chancellor in his Budget for immunity from cuts.

Defra is, therefore, likely to see 25 per cent of its annual expenditure cut within four years and, as such, it is unlikely that there will be any great transfer of cash.

It is likely, therefore, that the Scottish proposals will be linked to "co-responsibility", with the farming industry picking up part of the financial tab for the health plan.