PUBLIC SECT0R: Inquiry blasts MAFF after foot-and-mouth disaster

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

hits farming.

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

foot-and-mouth crisis.

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.

Leader, p8.

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