Round and round in circles

The dithering and directionless nature of the new Welsh Government was illustrated perfectly when they decided last month to put the west Wales badger cull on hold pending a review, even though nothing had changed since the previous decision to go ahead.

When in coalition with Plaid Cymru, Labour could leave it to Plaid ministers like Elin Jones to take tough decisions like this. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that we now have a government that aren't capable of making such decisions on their own, and that they'll always need someone to hold their hand.

So, as we can read here, they have now turned to Professor Chris Gaskell to lead a review panel. But the question he must be asking is why on earth he's being asked to do something that he's already done ... and done more than once.

For example, there seems to be a sense of "how many times do we have to say the same thing over and over again" in this letter he wrote in his capacity as Chair of the DEFRA Science Advisory Council in December 2007:

It is worth stating at the outset that in the absence of new data, and we have seen none, nor has any been presented in the King report, the SAC sees no rationale in changing the advice on the current science base for bovine TB that it has already given to your predecessor as CSA. The subsequent debate would seem to us to be more around the policy options that may arise from these observations, rather than the evidence itself.

However, it is the opinion of the SAC that despite the alternative presentations of the implications of the ISG results, there is substantial agreement about the basic scientific evidence.

Specifically, in relation to the potential effectiveness of badger culling, there appears to be agreement on the following basic points between King and the ISG:

•  That simultaneous, coordinated and repeated culls of badgers in large, geographically distinct and isolated areas where there is a high prevalence of bTB in cattle should lead to a modest reduction in outbreaks in cattle within the area culled.

•  That culling badgers would lead to an increase in bTB breakdowns in cattle in the surrounding areas (“the edge effect”).

•  That culling of badgers on its own, would not eradicate bTB in cattle.

However such agreement presumes that:

•  Any culled area is sufficiently large for the benefits to offset the detrimental edge effects that follow culling. This would, in the opinion of SAC, mean culling areas preferably of at least several hundred square kilometres.

•  That natural, or ‘hard’ boundaries such as rivers and motorways at the edges of culling areas might assist in reducing the edge effect although, in practice, impermeable boundaries would be, in the opinion of SAC, difficult to achieve.

Letter to DEFRA, December 2007

Then, in only April of this year, another group he was part of said almost exactly the same thing, as recorded in this note.


It is ridiculous for politicians to think that if they keep asking the same questions over and over, they will magically get a different answer. And although I sure that Chris Gaskell and the others on the new review panel will be paid well for their work, I can't help wondering whether they might prefer to get on with other things rather than waste yet more taxpayers' money.

The science is clear enough, but policies must be decided by politicians ... or at least by politicians who are prepared to take the hard decisions. John Griffiths is no Elin Jones.

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Anonymous said...

I think in fairness, they seem to dither on policies simply because they do not have a majority. Expect more of these to come...

Owen said...

Wasn't the legal challenge thrown out as well?

I'm on the fence when it comes to a cull personally, but the decision has/had been made and the Welsh Government should've followed it through. Farmers are right to be annoyed at this.

My suspicion is they are waiting to see what happens in England vis-a-vis badger culling. Would any legal challenge there have implications for Wales due to the joint legal system?

MH said...

No, Anon. I certainly expect more dithering, but not because Labour don't have a majority. On the issue of whether to proceed with the policy worked out by Elin Jones, Labour would have Plaid's support ... and probably the support of quite a few Tories.

If anything, the problem is that Labour can't rely on all of its own AMs. But Labour's internal splits are Labour's problem.

MH said...

The challenge to the Welsh decision was because the then Counsel General, a certain Carwyn Jones, got the legal procedures wrong, Owen. But things were then redrafted, and there's nothing to now stop the Welsh plan going ahead ... except Labour's dithering. Had Carwyn Jones not given duff advice first time, the cull would probably have started before the election.

Anonymous said...

How many cows will die unnecessarily while we are waiting?

glynbeddau said...

And last time despite Peter Black's attempt to use opposition to the proposed cull to promote an Anti-Plaid agenda targeting Elin Jones 4 out of the 6 Libdems including La Pasionaria AM supported the cull proposal.

Whatever your vies on this the decision must be made one way or the other and based on evidence not political opportunism.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that Professor Chris Gaskell, back in 2007, as quoted above quite specifically noted that 'hard boundaries' such as motorways and rivers will offset the 'perturbation' effect around the boundaries of a cull area. Of course, the largest single boundary of the IAA cull area is the Irish Sea and the Teifi estuary. I can only conclude, therefore, that if Professor Gaskell recommends the cull should NOT go ahead, then he has found evidence of badgers adapting local boat building knowledge and have been making themselves "badger coracles". This would indeed be a scientific breakthrough, well worthy of the delay and the additional 'review' costs.

MH said...

I understand that Peter Black is trying to secure funding for a badger coracle college, Anon. But Leighton Andrews is insisting it can only go ahead if it's bilingual.

More seriously, Prof Gaskell won't recommend anything. He will simply say that if it goes ahead, under defined conditions, it will achieve a reduction in bTB but won't eradicate the disease.

It will then be up to the minister, and the Welsh government collectively, to decide whether to implement the scheme or not. The scientific evidence hasn't changed and won't change. That's why this exercise is such a waste of time.

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