A damning report into the use of PR during the foot-and-mouth
crisis is calling for urgent action to be taken before another disaster
The Government, and in particular the now defunct Ministry of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), bore the brunt of criticism in
the final report of the Devon Foot-and-Mouth Inquiry.
The inquiry chairman, countryside expert Professor Ian Mercer CBE, says
a new national contingency plan needs to be put in place as a matter of
He wants to see all agencies, both local and national, communicate with
one, coherent voice - something Mercer argues was lacking during the
He said: 'A culture of secrecy was perceived within MAFF, public
communication was poor to non-existent and this led to an atmosphere of
suspicion, confusion, changing advice and inconsistencies.'
Mercer advocates the setting up of communications control centres to
manage all media relations.
He cited similar centres used during the total eclipse in the region in
1999 as a success.
Mercer added that communications need to be regularly tested in
exercises at a local and national level.
Peter Doyle, head of communications at Devon County Council, which
submitted evidence to the inquiry, welcomed Mercer's conclusions.
Doyle said: 'If communications goes belly up as with the foot-and-mouth
crisis, you really are in trouble. A perception is allowed to grow and
you end up constantly battling against that from the start.'
Mercer is a former CEO of the Countryside Council of Wales and the first
secretary general of the Association of National Park Authorities.
The inquiry involved evidence from 380 people and organisations.
Mercer's report also recommended field operations to combat future
outbreaks be co-ordinated by the military.