Headlines: June 21st, 2002

The National Audit Office says there are lessons on risk management to be learned by the whole of Government as a result of the foot and mouth crisis.The NAO, whose job it is to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of Government departments, says the Foot and Mouth outbreak cost the public sector more than three billion pounds and the private sector more than five billion.

It says that despite the unprecedented nature of the outbreak – in its long unchecked progress and resulting scale – there are lessons to be learned for all contingency planners.

As well as practical measures to fight the outbreak of any future disease, a tighter grip is recommended on spending, to ensure financial controls do not fall below a minimum standard.

On practical measures it says that contingency plans need to be drawn up for a range of levels of outbreak to ensure appropriate measures can be chosen. These need prior consultation between government departments, agencies and those affected. These stakeholders were not formally consulted in preparing MAFF’s contingency plans.

The NAO also says that communications and information systems were severely stretched during the epidemic, with MAFF finding it difficult in the crisis conditions to get its key instructions and messages across and to obtain good quality information from the field.

On controlling costs it cites how, because of the need to get things done quickly, costs were higher than they might have been. Experts like vets, slaughterers and valuers charged a premium for their services, valuers over-valued animals for slaughter, and contracts were awarded – in the interests of speed – without going to tender. Verbal agreements on work caused problems later when contracts came to be written and parties involved could not recall the detail of what had been agreed.

Only some way into the outbreak did MAFF try to wrestle control of the escalating costs.

The NAO warns that all Departments need to be aware of the major threats in their areas of business and to have contingency plans in place which conform to best practice on risk management.

A summary of the report is found at: www.nao.gov.uk . Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.