Public may have been misled about Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre replacement

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John Finnie has asked the Scottish Government for answers after learning that the planned replacement for the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre will not be the like-for-like replacement implied by the Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) announcement on the project.

The SRUC plans to relocate the veterinary disease surveillance service, which it operates on behalf of the Scottish Government, from its present site in Drummondhill to the new University of the Highlands and Islands campus at Beechwood in the east of the city.

John said:

“Whilst it is entirely correct to state that there will be a new post mortem facility at Beechwood, crucially, the new site will not be a laboratory facility in any shape or form. These plans are far from a like-for-like replacement; rather, it’s a substantial downgrading.

“The present site at Drummondhill has already been put up for sale, and will no doubt deliver considerable receipts – something I think this whole episode has been about.

“I’m reliably informed SRUC management have consistently told staff that they could not enter a staff consultation ‘until the minister had signed off on the changes’, yet this is precisely what appears to be what happened. This indicates continuing disrespect for the staff and for good workplace practices so I am keen to understand the level of Ministerial involvement.

“Ironically, whilst most of the other SAC Consulting Veterinary Services labs require major refurbishment, the Inverness lab is probably the most fit for purpose centre of them all.

“I also understand that ‘commercial serology’ work has already been moved to other centres which require to make overtime payments to staff to have it completed, so we are rapidly coming to the point where all laboratory work will be removed from Inverness; some, I’m told, without Ministerial sign-off.

“When previously involved in trying to retain this important facility, I was keen to stress that disease surveillance, particularly about emerging diseases, was about threats posed not only animal but also public health. Despite that, SRUC started this all off without any reference to the Director of Public Health.

“I have posed a series of questions to the Scottish Government on this matter and I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, will be as keen as me to ensure valuable jobs are retained in the Highlands and that there’s no threat to the overall efficiency of disease surveillance across Scotland.

“It is perhaps time that the SRUC started acting like a public body rather than some tawdry commercial concern that has no regard for its staff or the public they are charged with serving.”

John was a leading voice in the campaign to save the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre, highlighting its importance to farmers and veterinarians across the Highlands and Islands, and pressing the Scottish Government to consider the implications for public health of losing a full-service post-mortem and microbiology laboratory.

John’s Written Parliamentary Questions are below, and can also be seen on the Scottish Parliament website. They are due for answer on or before Tuesday 21 June 2016.

  • S5W-00538 – To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to ensure that its non-departmental public bodies follow best practice in respect of industrial relations.
  • S5W-00539 – To ask the Scottish Government what differences there are between the facilities at the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre at Drummondhill and those at the new Scotland’s Rural College site at Beechwood.
  • S5W-00540 – To ask the Scottish Government whether ministers have signed off on all changes to the provision of disease surveillance at Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness.
  • S5W-00541 – To ask the Scottish Government whether commercial serology work has been moved from Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness and, if so, what the (a) staffing, (b) cost and (c) efficiency implications were.
  • S5W-00542 – To ask the Scottish Government what liaison regarding the proposed changes to Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness there has been between ministers and the postholders responsible for animal and human disease surveillance.
  • S5W-00543 – To ask the Scottish Government what impact assessment it has made regarding the proposed changes to Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness and whether it will publish this.
  • S5W-00544 – To ask the Scottish Government who will receive the receipts from the sale of the Scotland’s Rural College facility at Drummondhill.