Responses to the Consultation Exercise
The Food Standards Agency issued proposals in January 2001 (see 15 January 2001)to implement the recommendations of the Meat Inspection Charges Task Force. The Agency proposed that, from 2 April 2001, all slaughterhouses and cutting plants should be charged on the basis of the standard (headage/throughput) charges as laid down in EU Directive 96/43/EEC. However, where the actual inspection costs are lower than the total of the standard charges, it was proposed that the actual costs should be charged. The Agency also proposed that measures should be introduced to allow the Meat Hygiene Service to protect itself from inefficiencies or abuses resulting from the implementation of a headage based system. Additional charges were proposed, to be payable alongside standard charges to discourage inefficient operations by plant operators or attempts to abuse the system.
Separate consultation exercises were held in England, Scotland and Wales based upon identical proposals. The consultation exercises elicited a total of 49 responses. There was full support for the adoption of a revised system whereby plants pay the lower of their actual inspection costs or a charge based on the headage rates. However, although many respondents recognised the need to prevent inefficiencies, there was strong opposition to the proposed method for additional charges to be introduced alongside standard charges. There was also strong support for the adoption of agreed operational programmes, as recommended by the Task Force, and the introduction of an appeals mechanism if plants could not agree a programme with the MHS, or if they opposed the imposition of additional charges in particular circumstances.
The FSA's Response to the Comments Additional Charges:
Secondly, the SI now states that the MHS and plant operators will, from time to time, agree an operational programme of agreed working hours and working practices. If plants observe the terms of their operational programme, they will not be liable for certain of the additional charges.
It should also be noted that the SI now contains a requirement for the MHS to notify plant operators if they intend to levy an additional charge.
Independent Appeals Mechanism
Linked to the question of additional charges is the concern many respondents expressed about the lack of an independent appeals mechanism. The Meat Inspection Charges Task Force had recommended that an element of independent arbitration be included with any control mechanisms introduced under a standard charge system. The FSA's original proposals had not included such a provision as it was felt that it would be too complicated and costly to have such a system in place from 2 April 2001. However, in view of the strong level of support expressed, the Agency has reviewed its proposals and amended the SI.
The new charging system therefore includes provision for the use of a simple and quick appeals mechanism in cases where the MHS and plant operators are unable to agree on the imposition of additional charges. It involves determination of the dispute by an independent person nominated by the FSA after consultation with industry representatives. This approach was welcomed at a meeting held with stakeholders on 27 February. Subsequently, stakeholders have put forward nominations for people to consider any appeals. An initial list has been prepared and is currently being considered by stakeholders. Under the system, plant operators will have one week from the date of notification that an additional charge is to be levied in which to appeal. The case will then be considered by an independent nominee who will have one month in which to make a decision.
Standard (Headage / Throughput) Rates
Some respondents asked whether different standard rates could be applied. It should be noted that the Agency is only able to levy the standard charges that are detailed in the EU Charges Directive. A copy of the rates for the year from 1 January 2001 is attached at Annex 3. The Euro rates are fixed, and the exchange rate to be applied each year is also determined by the terms of the Charges Directive.
The Meat Inspection Charging System to Apply from 2 April 2001
The key features of the new meat inspection charging system to apply from 2 April 2001 are: