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Scotland Plans to Devolve Health, Welfare Budget

by 5m Editor
21 December 2009, at 8:13am

SCOTLAND - The Scottish Government and the farming industry have united behind the need for an acceptable deal on devolving animal health and welfare funding from the UK government.

Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, met the Scottish farming industry to update it on plans to devolve budgets and said the UK Government must stop 'dragging its feet' on the issue.

Despite holding 12 meetings with the devolved administrations, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has yet to propose a workable solution.

A deal for devolving the animal health and welfare budgets was expected to be in place by April 2010.

Mr Lochhead said: "The current situation which provides the Scottish Government with responsibility for the policy but not the budget for animal health and welfare is agreed by all to be unacceptable.

"There is widespread consensus that these budgets should be devolved, including the independent review of the last foot and mouth outbreak and the UK's own white paper on the Calman proposals. Working with the industry, devolution of these budgets would enable the Scottish Government to further strengthen this country's international reputation for quality, boosting exports and profitability.

"Despite a dozen meetings with Defra we are yet to receive a workable proposal. Indeed, only now are we starting to receive some of the figures. One sticking point remains their condition of wanting to pass on financial liability for all disease outbreaks, rather than continuing the current practice of such exceptional events being funded by the Treasury. Such a deal goes against the spirit of Calman, which recommended that contingency liability be retained at the UK level. We will be assessing the pros and cons and where this leave us with the industry.

"Defra's handling of this situation leaves a lot to be desired and time is running out if a deal is to be agreed by April 2010. Beyond that the treasury squeeze on public spending means there may soon be no money left to devolve. However, our determination to move this issue forward is as strong as ever."

NFUS President Jim McLaren said: "It remains a frustrating anomaly of the Scottish devolution settlement that while decisions on animal health and welfare policy have been taken at Holyrood since 1999, the budget for delivering the policies remains with Treasury. It is essential that a reasonable settlement is reached without further delays, and that Scotland receives its fair share of the UK budget to allow us to tackle Scotland's animal health and welfare priorities.

"We have consistently argued for this to be addressed and included this issue in the evidence we supplied to the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution. Helpfully, the Calman report, published in June this year, recommended that the animal health and welfare budget be devolved from Westminster to sit with the policy in Scotland and it is disappointing that, despite Scottish Government efforts, little progress appears to have been made.

"Crucially, the Calman report also recognised that responsibility for the funding of exotic animal disease outbreaks, such as Foot and Mouth Disease, should remain a reserved matter, with access to the UK Treasury contingency fund. The justification for this reservation revolved around the fact that the Scottish Government does not have responsibility for controlling its borders, through which any exotic disease would need to pass in order to enter the country. Therefore, Scotland could not be expected to pay for the cost of such outbreaks. Calman's recommendations on this matter must be recognised in any settlement agreed."

Services provided in Scotland by the Animal Health agency, the British Cattle Movement Service, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and animal welfare organisations are resourced from the GB animal health and welfare budgets.

These services are essential for the veterinary assessment, testing and tracing of livestock in order to identify, control and protect against disease. In addition, money is spent on a range of research, development and related services.

Although policy responsibility for animal health and welfare was part of the original devolution settlement, the budgets were not.

The Scudamore review [click here] of the 2007 Foot and Mouth Disease recommended that financial arrangements should be reviewed with intention of transferring budgets to SG to implement its policies on control of exotic diseases.

The Scottish Parliament debated the report in October 2008 and concluded that the Scottish Government should press the case for devolving a proportionate share of the GB budget, while preserving the right to access the UK Treasury reserve fund for disease outbreaks. Discussions have been ongoing with a view to budgets being devolved by April 2010.

The report of the Calman Commission also recommended that budgets be devolved but that disease outbreaks should continue to be funded by the Treasury.