Veterinary labs jobs fear in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth

A scientist at a Defra laboratory
Image caption AHVLA says the move will save around £2.4m per year

Uncertainty surrounds the jobs of about 20 laboratory staff at government veterinary centres in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth.

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is cutting testing facilities from eight of the UK's 14 labs to centralise work.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) says it will seek other work for its staff.

The Prospect trade union is lobbying the Welsh Government over the plans.

Other centres affected are in Bristol, Cornwall, north Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Lancashire.

Early diagnosis

Veterinary science laboratories are responsible for carrying out testing for the government, the livestock industry and commercial customers.

Scientists also help with the early diagnosis of diseases such as bovine TB and swine fever, as well other services including haematology, microbiology and biochemistry.

The AHVLA was created in April as a merger of Animal Health with the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

It says testing work will be concentrated at six regional labs in Bury St Edmunds, Exeter, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Penrith, Shrewsbury, and Sutton Bonington in Nottinghamshire, while two central labs will remain in Weybridge, Surrey, and Lasswade, near Edinburgh.

Staff from the other eight centres will have to send samples for testing to one of these regional or central AHVLA laboratories.

The changes will be phased in over two years.

The AHVLA said the cuts will save around £2.4m a year but insisted that all sites would remain open.

It said the changes would not affect the location of post-mortem facilities, the activities currently undertaken by the veterinary investigation officers, or the surveillance programme.

The agency confirmed that 90 scientific and laboratory staff across the UK would potentially be affected but it aimed to redeploy staff and then seek voluntary redundancies.

Chief Executive Catherine Brown said: "Reducing the number of sites undertaking laboratory testing will enable us to deliver services of the same high standard at a significantly lower cost.

"This is due to the professionalism and flexibility of our staff and will be to the benefit of the customers who rely on us for high standard laboratory services, as it makes the service more sustainable for the future."

'Worst fears'

The trade union Prospect is concerned that jobs across the eight regional centre were under threat, and that any savings would be outweighed by the potential cost of failing to quickly detect diseases such as foot-and-mouth.

Geraldine O'Connell, national secretary of Prospect, said: "This announcement bears out our worst fears for the future of the laboratories, and we remain concerned about the long-term impact on the future of the laboratory sites themselves.

"We will argue strongly that AHVLA must retain all the laboratory sites affected by these closures in order to maintain appropriate veterinary surveillance at local and regional levels.

"We are particularly worried about the situation in Wales, which will be left without a single lab and where we will be making strong representations to the Welsh assembly for the retention of the necessary facilities."

The AHVLA is carrying out a further review of the regional centres and its conclusions are due next month.

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