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Animal health budget delay bad news for Scottish farmers

NFU Scotland believes the failure to reach an agreement that would see Scotland's animal health budgets devolved from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in April is a bad deal for Scottish farmers.

Policy for animal health and welfare in Scotland rests with the Scottish government, but the budget for the area has remained with Defra since devolution. The Scottish government has been working with the Defra to devolve the budgets, but a statement on 25 March from the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, has made it clear that the expected settlement deadline of 1 April, 2010 will not be met. It may be a further 12 months before this issue is resolved.

In response to the announcement, NFU Scotland President, Jim McLaren said:

"It is 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. There was a huge level of expectation that a reasonable settlement was to be reached and that Scotland would receive its fair share of the UK budget to tackle its own animal health and welfare priorities. These hopes now appear to have been dashed.

“The assurances given by the UK government that it was committed to devolution of the budget ring hollow now and it feels as though there has been deliberate feet-dragging on the subject.   The fact that no settlement may be forthcoming for a further 12 months is unacceptable and the nation’s farmers deserve a full explanation as to why this has dragged on for so long before Defra chose to indicate that it’s not going to happen in April as planned.

“The announcement also comes against the backdrop of the substantial departmental funding cuts that emerged in the surrounds of the Chancellor’s budget on 24 March. There is a real fear that there may be little money left for Scotland by the time the budget is devolved.

“Our policy work on animal health in Scotland, driven by Scottish government working alongside stakeholders, has been ground-breaking and has been a massive area of strength for our livestock sector in recent years. Failure to agree a full and fair devolution of the budget continues to place constraints on being able to drive forward animal health and welfare in Scotland to the benefit of our industry.

“As the General Election approaches, we will strive to make the devolution of the animal health and welfare budget a priority issue for all parties so that there is a speedy end to this disappointing impasse regardless of who holds power after May.”

Source: NFU Scotland

Natalie Berkhout

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