Stop playing the blame game and call a public inquiry

Wednesday 18 December 2013 04:17
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So now we know. Yes, says yesterday's report by Ian Anderson – the third of the Government's commissioned reports into the foot-and-mouth disaster – there were serious mistakes made in the handling of the outbreak. Yes, there were clear failures in the information systems of government. But no, there was no deliberate government plan to resist early action because of its possible impact on the election.

As Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said with ill-disguised smugness yesterday, the outbreak was far bigger than any previously. And, anyway, mistakes could be largely laid at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture. Nick Brown, in charge of agriculture at the time, has been dropped from government, while most of the recommendations made by earlier reports have been adopted. So the waters can close in over the whole sorry episode.

This is governmental arrogance of the highest order. The Anderson report into "Lessons to be Learned" is an insult to the tens of thousands of people whose livelihood was destroyed by an epidemic that cost the country's economy some £8bn and an insult to taxpayers who funded compensation payments of £1.3bn. It is outrageous that there has not been a full public inquiry into the affair.

Dr Anderson, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, was asked to look into the lessons of the crisis with the specific instruction not to seek blame in his findings. And so, inevitably, it has proved. Beneath conclusions clearly targeted at making the now deceased Ministry of Agriculture the fall guy for the flawed way in which the outbreak was tackled, there is the hanging question of whether political intervention delayed the call-up of the army.

The Government had good cause to worry about who was blamed for the handling of the outbreak. This is, no doubt, why it decided to pursue the peculiar procedure of three successive government-commissioned reports. But blame is not what primarily concerns the public; it is the establishment of clear, unprejudiced facts with which to draw conclusions for the future. Parliament should not be satisfied until a public inquiry has been established.

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