By Richard Griffiths
‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’, or so said Lady Macbeth to a husband already haunted by the ghosts of a hideous plot.
The FSA Board have seemingly found their courage and a sticking place, but success or otherwise is far less sure.
There remain too many uncertainties in meat inspection charging for a declaration of full cost recovery to take the role of be all and end all.
Perhaps I’m being too dour in outlook. The recent consultation’s Impact Assessment told us that a few pence per kilo here and a few pence per bird there is surely nothing to a multi-billion pound industry. The FSA isn’t the only one seeking a pound of flesh from the sector these days, but it may be the only one whose mandatory service is largely out-dated.
What galls is the questionable benefit of the whole process. Any responsible FBO would welcome a service that ensured food safety, bolstered hygiene standards, and safeguarded their business, and that may well come to pass in the future. We’re tied into the European legislative process, both the current structure and the on-going process of review, but change is many years away even given smooth progress. So what is an industry to do but seek ways to reduce the burden.
We can’t blame the FSA for wanting to recover costs, but we can and must press them for greater efficiency and more effective partnership working. For poultry we need to make the most of PIAs and work to give incentives for their use, but the red meat sector is facing a £20 million uplift with no alternatives in sight. This lack of option in the face of escalating costs has led to renewed calls for alternative providers to be re-considered.
I think an alternative delivery model is worth exploring but may not be the answer in one fell swoop. There are no guarantees that a private sector option will be any cheaper, but it certainly can offer competition and impetus to improve, attributes lacking in the current system. Before that happens we do need to benchmark the current system and squeeze out any efficiency available. The FSA have found benchmarking against other Member States to be problematic, and when pressured by the Treasury it is easier to go straight for the money.
I have no qualms on the quality of the service from the FSA, just its extent and necessity. The necessity can be worked on through European bodies, so that just leaves us with the extent of how efficiently it is applied. On this issue the hurly-burly is far from done.