NAO looks into foot and mouth

2 Aug 01
The foot and mouth crisis looks set to become the agricultural version of the Millennium Dome fiasco as the National Audit Office launches an investigation into the government's handling of the epidemic.

03 August 2001

As the NAO began its audit, figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggest that the final cost of the crisis could exceed £2.3bn.

The department has already spent £1.2bn since the crisis was publicly revealed in February. The clean-up bill for English farms alone is set to top £800m.

The final NAO report is due to be published in spring 2002. It will examine the government's contingency planning, its strategy for containing the disease and the overall cost to public spending and to the economy.

The office is considering issuing separate reports on Wales and England.

A spokesman for the NAO denied that the investigation, originally mooted in May, was unusual but said that issues perceived as 'having been dealt with badly' were subject to value-for-money audits. He added that the problem was comparable to that over passports and the Dome.

News of the NAO investigation comes at a particularly sensitive time for the government, as criticism mounts over the spiralling costs of the crisis and confusion over the payment schemes for farmers.

Downing Street has already ordered the suspension of the disinfecting programme after it emerged that it was costing three times more in England than in Scotland.

Compensation for farmers has also soared. There is concern that the average payment for a dairy cow has risen from £900 to more than £2,000.

In Wales, the situation also looks grave. As Assembly members announced a £65m rural recovery package, more than 5,000 sheep were culled, and tests on a further 4,000 were ordered after an outbreak in the Brecon Beacons.

Eight new cases across Britain were confirmed this week amid growing fears that the disease had spread to previously uncontaminated areas. Speculation was also rife that Prime Minister Tony Blair may capitulate and agree to a public inquiry into the crisis.


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