Defra should continue to fund the Agency to complete this programme to improve the management of animal disease and secure the full benefits of the new ICT.

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The National Audit Office has recommended that a reform programme aimed at improving the management of animal disease, despite being subject to some ICT difficulties and delay, has the potential to achieve value for money and should be carried through to completion.

Between 2005-06 and 2011-12, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency spent £103 million (from the agreed budget of £123 million) on reforming the way it delivers animal health and welfare service. The Business Reform Programme was designed to improve the quality of the Agency’s data, upgrade its ICT, standardize and automate its processes, and enable private vets to submit bovine tuberculosis tests online. It is now forecast that the Programme will be completed by 2013-14, although approved funding is not yet available beyond March 2013.

According to today’s report, the Programme has been strongly managed over the last few years and the Agency has made tangible progress in addressing some key challenges at the same time as achieving cost reductions, £4 million to date. In addition to reducing headcount by 119 full time members of staff, over halfway towards its final forecast of 214, new ICT is enabling staff to share data across offices, helping the Agency to generate better information on costs and performance and helping the Agency work more efficiently. Despite reducing the number of staff tracking the movement of cattle testing positive for bovine TB from 43 to 28, the number of tracings carried out in a year rose by 24 per cent.

However, there have been issues with the implementation of the new ICT, owing in part to necessary changes to its scope, and the Programme is currently two years behind schedule. The ICT supporting the Agency’s management of bovine TB went live three months late in October 2011, and the Agency immediately faced some issues. Only 11 of the 497 private veterinary practices signed up to submit test results online are currently doing so. These problems have also affected the Agency’s relationship with its customers.

The final stages of the reform programme are critical for securing the full benefits of the new ICT. These include a reduction in the Agency’s reliance on risky legacy ICT systems whose capability of recovering in an emergency is of concern.

“Given the progress made so far by the Agency in its Business Reform Programme, the potential for delivering value for money, and the real risks involved in not proceeding, we consider that the Department should continue to fund the Agency to complete the Programme.

“As a condition of continuing the funding, however, the Department should be clear what it expects from the Agency. The Agency needs to set priorities for what it plans to do and by when – including rectifying existing problems and switching off risky legacy systems.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office


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