Monday, July 14, 2008

Defra lose in the High Court.

At 10 o'clock this morning, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton handed down his verdict on Defra's tabular valuations which have so badly discriminated against high value pedigree cattle. We covered the background to this case here and again here as Defra's 'one size fits none' tables claimed more and more young high-end value pedigree cattle.

Farmers Guardian has the sory:
DEFRA may be forced to scrap the tabular valuation system for cattle in its current form, after a High Court judge rules this morning that it was unlawful.

Lord Justice Stanley Burnton said that in applying average values to high-end cattle, Defra was discriminating against their owners without sufficient justification.

Defra will no doubt concentrate on the words 'high value', and spend a huge amount of time deciding exacly what they mean. Lord Justice Stanley Burnton's statement described as "perverse" Defra's claim the value of pedigree cattle culled under the policy was being "realistically or fairly determined" before compensation is paid.
The BBC has more on Devon dairy farmer David Partridge's case :
Upholding Mr Partridge's judicial review challenge, the judge said: "The Secretary of State has not satisfied me that reasonably reliable means of fairly compensating farmers with high value cattle at reasonable expense is impossible or impractical to achieve".

That in words we can all understand means that the current system of 'valuing' a pedigree animal, over the age of three years, in a single tick box is discriminatory.

It's fine if you happen to own a fifteeen year Jersey lawn-mower, who also happens to have pedigree paperwork, but not so good for a cow like ROXY whose genetic potentional gave her an official valuation of around £100,000 while Defra's tabular would have 'offered' her owner £855. And before any bright spark mentions insurance, that would be good. It would be responsible and it would be amazing - if we could get cover. And if, like most of the contributers to this site, after a claim we are refused ? What then?

Defra's bean counters are likely to be adding up potential figures in a whirl of Treasury led spin. Cattle slaughterings are up 40 percent to April - and if they have to pay the correct value for slaughtering these sentinels-of-a-wider-problem? That elephant in the room, is getting bigger by the day.

We suspect that the argument will centre on which animals fall outside the current tabular banding, and how many of those there are likely to be. We will be reminded of responsibility to the taxpayers who fund the schemes, but little will be made of Defra's own responsibilities in clearing the wildlife reservoir which is responsible for causing, as Lord Rooker reminded us "up to 80 per cent of the problem". Do that and it's problem sorted.

Meanwhile a few more boxes on the form might be in order, or an owner pre-breakdown valuation, as suggested by Ben Bradshaw. Many insurance policies operate on an 'average' value system, with individual items - or in this case, animals - identified as a bit special. Just a few ideas to conjure with...

Devon dairy farmer, David Partridge, successfully claimed he was discriminated against by the tabular valuation system. He said compensation paid out for a number of high value pedigree animals slaughtered because of bovine TB in March 2006 came nowhere near to reflecting their true market value.

That has not been the case since 2006, when this very basic tabular system was introduced. So, will the next question be 'is this decision retrospective', on cattle already culled for a fraction of their value?

NFU President Peter Kendall commented:
“.... this should never have ended up in the courts. The NFU and all parts of the livestock industry have sought to work with Defra over the last five years to devise a scheme that strikes the right balance between pressures on the public purse and the losses suffered by livestock producers, including those who have invested in building up high quality herds.

Would that be the scheme where the industry delivered tabular valuation and pre movement testing - and got a 'consultation' excercise in return? Or the other attempt to play politics which so nearly delivered zoning dressed up as risk based trading, by the back door - in exchange for zilch? So what has "working with" Defra actually achieved? The NFU, along with all the other main farming organisations have now withdrawn support for the issue of cost sharing and disease levies. Highlighting the 'responsibility' bit of that dialogue which our ministry seems so very loathe to accept, Peter Kendall concludes:
“The events of the last week, with the Secretary of State announcing there is to be no co-ordinated action to deal with TB in wildlife, makes this decision all the more timely.

We covered the 'no co-ordinated action on wildlfe' bit which Defra seem sooooo keen to avoid, in this posting which sets out the obligations of governments in words that even the most slippery, duplicitous and mendacious of readers would have problems in avoiding. Our industry has been shafted once. And almost a second time.
Farmers-in-suits trying to do 'deals' with such politicians will inevitably lose out; they just aren't in the same league.

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