Mr. Andy Stewart
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about the recent review which examined his Department's regional organisation.
§ Mr. Jopling
I announced in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) on 2 February that I was considering a report on a review of my Department's regional organisation.
Since then, I have received representations about the report from a number of right hon. and hon. Members, from my regional panel chairmen, the main organisations representing the farming industry, local authorities and their associations, and a range of other interested organisations and individuals. The staff of my Department have also been fully consulted and have made their views known.
I have carefully considered the report and all the views put forward. I accept that there would be serious disadvantages in changing the Ministry's network of regional and divisional offices. It would entail disruption for the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service at a time when it needs a settled background against which to establish its new commercial method of operating. It is also difficult at present to judge the impact on the work of my staff in the regions of recent and prospective, national and Community, decisions on agricultural policy, the rural economy and protection of the environment. I have therefore decided to maintain the existing network of five regional and 19 divisional offices.
Nevertheless, adjustments need to be made to take account of substantial changes in the distribution of work. I have therefore decided that there should be some reduction in staffing to match current needs.
I have further decided that, with the aim of improving efficiency, management of the regional organisation should be unified under five regional directors, whilst maintaining the state veterinary service under central management by the Chief Veterinary Officer. Appropriate changes will also be made in headquarters management structure.
Finally, internal procedures are to be changed to involve professional staff of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service more closely in the management of its support staff.
These changes are to be introduced by stages, starting later this year. They will ensure the Ministry can fulfil the complete range of its responsibilities in the regions with increased efficiency and cost effectiveness.