There is currently a shortage of vets in my Department and, more widely, in the private and public sectors across the United Kingdom. There is also an increasing acceptance that Northern Ireland requires a more assured long-term supply of veterinarians than is available from historical sources. There are a number of options for achieving that, which merit further exploration. I have, therefore, commissioned a formal assessment of the need for vets in Northern Ireland and an independent analysis of the various options for meeting that need.
In the case of my Department’s veterinary requirements, my officials are exploring all available avenues, including taking on more permanent veterinary staff, through Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) recruitment, and temporary vets, through the NICS agency framework. Officials are also investigating contracting the supply of vets with providers of veterinary services, with the assistance of the Department of Finance’s construction and procurement division.
In the meantime, my priority is to ensure that we have sufficient vets to carry out the vital work in our meat processing plants, in field offices delivering TB eradication, to support the agri-food industry and to assure the welfare of animals. The use of scarce veterinary resources to oversee intra-UK trade at Northern Ireland points of entry is unacceptable and unnecessary, just as the Northern Ireland protocol, in its current form, is unacceptable, given the absence of material risk to the European Union's single market as, in so many respects, the standards in the UK's single market equal, if not exceed, those in many parts of the European Union. The protocol is already unworkable and is becoming unsuitable as the number of checks rise to a possible 25,000 per week under its full and rigorous implementation.
Rather than spending scarce resources on checking goods that will, in all probability, never come near the EU single market and with no material risk if they should, it would be preferable that our vets focus on the real priorities facing the Northern Ireland agri-food industry, on animal welfare and on matters of concern to the population.