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Veterinary Investigation Service

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now make a statement on the efficiency study of the Veterinary Investigation Service.

I have now completed consideration of the report of this study which I commissioned last year. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.The report contains 37 recommendations designed to reduce Exchequer costs and increase the efficiency of the service. The proposals fall into four main categories, the main thrust of which I endorse.First, I agree with the study officers on the need to establish clear objectives and management priorities in the VIS, in particular as regards research and development work. Implementation will form part of the action now in train following last year's study of ADAS (of which the VIS is a part) by its Director General, Professor Bell.Secondly, the study advocated action to recover a greater proportion of the costs of the service. Again, action to implement these recommendations will proceed in step with the similar recommendations on charging for ADAS services in Professor Bell's report.Thirdly, the study officers proposed a reduction in the number of centres from 24 to 15 but with an increase in their average size.I have already received representations from many Members on behalf of farmers and veterinarians expressing concern that the services offered will be adversely affected if particular centres are closed. I have taken careful note of these representations, but I believe that it should be possible to continue to meet the essential needs of the industry from fewer centres.

As to the specific proposals, I believe a strong case has been made for closure of the centres at Northampton, Chester, Liverpool and Cardiff. I also recognise the case for closure of the centre at Gloucester subject to satisfactory alternative arrangements for continuing the important work done there on badgers and tuberculosis control. As regards the centres at Leeds and Lincoln, the need to service the important pig industry in Humberside may require the retention of one orother of these centres or the opening of a new one.

I have commissioned cost appraisals of the options. I have also commissioned cost appraisals of the study officers' proposals for opening 2 new centres to replace the centres at Truro, Starcross, Winchester and Wye. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I are agreed that the proposal for closure of the centre at Aberyswyth should not be pursued.

Finally, a new management structure for the VIS is recommended. I have some reservations as to the detail of the study officers' proposals but this is for consideration in the light of the new infrastructure of the service that is finally agreed.

The total savings achievable as a result of the study recommendations will depend on the outcome of the further studies and of the consultations with outside interests which I am now setting in train. I would hope that these consultations can be completed over the next two months.