Changes to Charging System
In response to a recommendation from the Meat Industry Red Tape Working Group (the Pooley Group), the Government established a task force in April 2000 to look at the issue of meat inspection charges and to consider alternative approaches to charging. The Task Force was established by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) under the independent chairmanship of Colin Maclean.
Following the completion of its investigations, the Task Force's report and recommendations were published by the FSA on 26 June 2000. The Task Force considered that, in view of what it saw as the serious threat to small and medium-sized abattoirs and cutting plants, the Government should contribute to the costs of meat inspection in Great Britain. It concluded that the Government should change its policy of requiring the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) to recover its hygiene inspection costs from the meat industry (since this is not required by EU rules on charging). It therefore recommended that the current method of charging for meat inspections on an hourly basis should be changed and that, instead, all abattoirs and cutting plants should be charged the standard (headage/throughput) fees laid down in the EU Charges Directive or their actual inspection costs where these are lower.
As already announced, the Government has decided to accept this recommendation and implement it in full throughout Great Britain from April 2001. The Task Force estimated that the Government would need to provide around £19m of funding per annum to achieve full implementation. This funding has been secured from a number of sources. Firstly, the Government will continue to fund the existing subsidy on meat hygiene inspection charges. This subsidy, worth £9m per annum after the current financial year, was introduced when hourly inspection rates were frozen in 1999/2000. In addition, a further £8.7m per annum will be provided by MAFF and the devolved authorities in Wales and Scotland (£7.308m, £0.609m and £0.783m respectively) beginning with the 2001/02 financial year. Finally, recognising that the cost may vary from year to year (e.g. through changing exchange rates), any remaining shortfall will be bridged from within FSA resources.
The FSA is now working towards implementing the new charging system from the beginning of next financial year (from Monday, 2nd April 2001), to coincide with the introduction of full-time veterinary supervision in full throughput plants as required by EU legislation. There is much work to be done in order to meet this target date. In particular, the MHS has considerable infrastructure work to carry out in order to change its computer software and invoicing systems. It will also be necessary to amend the existing Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) (Charges) Regulations 1998. The letter inlcudes:
Separate legislation will be enacted in Scotland and Wales to implement the recommendation. However, the FSA Offices in London, Aberdeen and Cardiff will be involved in the analysis of all responses to ensure that all relevant interests are taken into account.
In tandem with the consultation on implementation of the Maclean Group recommendations we are also consulting on the level of the MHS hourly charge rates to be used from 2nd April 2001 in calculating actual inspection costs for all plants. The FSA propose to restrict the increase in such rates to 3% for all grades of inspection staff, in line with the rate of inflation. In addition, there are proposals for the adoption of a new single hourly rate for all OVSs, changes to the way certain types of unworked time and unworked contractual overtime allowances are charged, and a reduction in the Bank Holiday rates from triple to double time.