Thursday, 1 May 2014

A Ban on Jersey Cattle: why wasn’t action taken sooner?

There's a ban in place on Jersey cattle – as the BBC news reports on it:
"Channel Island farmers are unable to send cows to the UK until they meet EU regulations on disease control. Jersey States vets are working to prove that the herd has been disease-free for many years. Changes to the live cattle import rules between Jersey and the UK in October 2013 meant exports were banned until the island complied with EU disease testing rules. Meeting the testing requirements will cost Jersey £542,617 over five years. It will be at least six months before the testing procedure can be put in place and exports allowed to resume."
"Jersey's Director of Rural Economy, Daniel Houseago, said in a report that the impact of not carrying out the tests would cost the dairy industry about £4.8m over the next five years."
So what precisely is going on here? The old Agriculture and Fisheries was incorporated into Economic Development, some would say as a very poor relation compared to Finance. There's a Ministerial Decision by Alan Maclean relating to this story and asking for extra funding.
"Decision(s): Request for extra-ordinary funding from the Treasury to support cattle exports and trade in bovine embryos requiring compliance with EU legislation including a testing programme for three notifiable bovine diseases – bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), Enzootic Bovine Leucosis (EBL) and Brucellosis."
"Reason(s) for Decision: On the basis that this is a new and unexpected requirement in relation to trade and that revenue budgets are committed, that the Treasury consider exceptional funding to come from central contingencies to cover the programme costs for years 1 (£267,030 in 2014) and 2 (£71,515 in 2015). Subsequent costs in 2016-2018 will be resolved through the Departmental MTFP allocations from 2016."
Now notice those words – "new and unexpected requirement". But the BBC story tells us that the rules changed in October 2013, so evidently there was a warning note sounded that needed some proactive reaction rather than "fire fighting" after the event.
The report goes on to state the background, and note that it is a question of complying with "red tape":
"EU Directive 64/432 governing trade in live bovine animals and swine provides a mechanism for officially recognising herds and regions or zones are disease free, part of which requires testing to a pre-determined programme."
"The situation is hugely frustrating because all the evidence supports the case that the diseases bTB, Brucellosis and EBL are not present and have not been present for many years, if ever, particularly in the case of EBL."
I do have sympathy with that. It is like an episode of "Yes Minister"
Hacker: Are those things about South Derbyshire true?
Dr Cartright: They may be.
Hacker: What are you saying?
Dr Cartright: I'm saying that South Derbyshire is the most efficient local authority in the UK.
Hacker: I'm meant to tick them off for being the least.
Dr Cartright: Look at the figures.
Hacker: I thought they didn't send us any.
Dr Cartright: No. But they keep their own records perfectly well. I'm going on those.
Hacker: Dr Cartwright said it is the most efficient council in Britain.
Sir Humphrey: Inefficient, I think he means.
Hacker: Efficient, Humphrey. Economical, effective. Just not interested in sending bits of blue paper to Whitehall.
Sir Humphrey: But they have to send them.
Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: It is a statutory requirement.
This is very much the case with the EU. There has been a change in policy. They want their little bits of blue paper. This comes out very strongly in the report:
"The EU does not provide a mechanism for alternative means to demonstrate freedom, and the Commission expert does not appear willing to consider an alternative. This stance is understandable given the lack of flexibility in the 50 year old Directive."
"Subsequently, the EU informed DEFRA in the spring of 2013 that Jersey had historically (over a 30 year period) not complied with EU legislation and therefore the Island could not be classed as being officially free from bTB, EBL and Brucella despite the Island wide testing regime over many years"
Now that was Spring of 2013 sounding a warning note. DEFRA later contacted Jersey directly:
"In October 2013 Jersey was also officially informed by DEFRA that the import conditions for cattle from Jersey had been amended requiring exporting herds in Jersey to demonstrate compliance with the EU Directive."
And the RJA&HS were also evidently concerned about the possible implications – such as a cattle ban, and this was in February 2014
"On the 14th February, 2014 a request was received from the RJA&HS and Jersey Dairy for Government support to undertake the necessary testing programme in order to establish official recognition of the islands' herds' freedom from bTB, ELB and Brucellosis. It should be noted the HMG cover the costs of these programmes in the UK."
We now fast forward to April 2014, 6 months after DEFRA had advised Jersey of the need to comply with EU rules, and 2 months after the RJ&HS had also requested that a program of testing be put into place. If the testing programme had been put in place 6 months ago, we could probably have avoided a ban on cattle exports.
But instead, we now have a sudden request from the Treasuries "contingency" fund for emergency cash to get a testing programme under way, and are told that this is because of "a new and unexpected requirement".
The internal evidence of the report itself contradicts that. DEFRA and the RJ&HS both brought the matter to the attention of the Jersey authorities, and either the information never got to the Minister, or he failed to take necessary action in time.
Is the Department guilty of negligence, in letting matters slip, because the Minister doesn't have adequate oversight to ensure he is informed of important matters like that, or was the Minister aware, but thought the status quo would just continue with business as usual? Or was the advice to try and negotiate to retain the existing system, and rather like with Britain and LVCR, the EU lost patience?
I think there are questions which Senator Maclean should answer: namely, why was the response to changes so late in the day, when the changes needed in testing regime were flagged up much earlier?
When Senator John Rothwell was President of Agriculture and Fisheries, a decision was made (on advice given) to dump potatoes near the Beauport headland. This led to an environmental catastrophe for the locale, which even today still requires the occasional removal of waste from tanks.
But the Senator admitted it had been a mistake, and offered to resign. He evidently took his responsibility seriously – the buck had to stop somewhere, and it stopped with him.
I am not suggesting that Senator Maclean resign. But it would be good if he at least apologised for the loss of earnings by dairy farmers, and even - as the report notes - a possible cull:
"Cattle reared for export which cannot leave the island are surplus to requirements and if insufficient market for products from the live animals or for meat, is unavailable, there may be calls for a planned cull on welfare grounds with consequent reputational damage and potentially compensation."
Will we have an apology from the Senator, or will we have the usual dissembling approach which manages to remove all consideration of Ministerial responsibility?
I am reminded of the phrase by Stanley Baldwin in connection with newspapers – "power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages."


No comments: