April 25, 2022: Animal Health Science Capacity (ACHS) Program Case Summary
It is standard practice for accounting officers to carefully review major policy proposals or plans to initiate or modify major projects and then assess whether they meet the standards set forth in the management of public funds. From April 2017, the government has committed to making available to Parliament a summary of the key points of these assessments when an accountant has approved an assessment of projects in the government’s major projects portfolio.
1. Background and context
The purpose of animal health science capacity (HACS) is to ensure the future of the Weybridge science campus. This internationally important site is the UK’s leading animal health science capacity, which manages the significant risks posed by animal diseases to human and animal health, it underpins UK economic activity and trade products of animal origin (POAO). The COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the transition period after leaving the European Union (EU) have underscored that the need for the UK to manage zoonotic disease threats and support trade and activity UK economy is more important than ever. The site needs major investment to continue to function and cope with future threats posed by animal diseases.
Since the funding announcement in the March 2020 Budget, significant work has been done to establish a detailed blueprint for the Weybridge redevelopment, which is currently underway. This led to a better understanding of the work required to bring about the required change. The current business case for the programme, approved in December 2021, focuses primarily on the funding required for Tranche 1. This is estimated at £198 million and covers program activities for the last 6 months of the fiscal year 2021 to 2022 and those in progress. financial years for 2022 to 2023, 2023 to 2024 and 2024 to 2025 in accordance with the 2021 expenditure review period.
Tranche 1 allows for continued activity on the site with respect to clearance works and buildings being prepared for demolition. This will also test and optimize the delivery plan for the main transition in terms of cost, schedule, benefits and risks, and progress in mobilizing the supply chain for delivery.
This section should explain how the proposal is supported by clear legal powers. This normally takes place in two ways: (a) specific legislation; or (b) the common law powers of the department.
This program is essential to fulfill the statutory responsibilities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This includes Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) policy commission to: provide surveillance for notifiable or reportable animal diseases; implement outbreak response on behalf of the government and (jointly with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)) to address the threat of zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance.
Overall Assessment: Achieved
This section should focus on how public funds are used correctly on a regular basis, as explained in the AO testing guidelines. The use of public funds must be adequate and regular (ie backed by law). Therefore, it must comply with the standards set out in the Management of Public Money, which includes obtaining internal and, if necessary, external authorizations. HMT approvals.
The program business case and funding were developed in accordance with the principles and controls of the management of public funds. HACS will operate within its expenditure review budget allocation. An overall estimated expenditure profile for the program has been identified, but specific funding will be agreed with HM Treasury (HMT) in future spending reviews, especially as the next phase of work aims to mature the master plan and delivery approach. The program followed the necessary Defra and HMT approvals. Compliance and accountability continue to be monitored by Defra, the Infrastructure Planning Authority and HMTand the National Audit Office.
Overall Assessment: Achieved
4. Value for money
The proposal should be good value for money for the Exchequer as a whole and not just for the ministry and, if possible, a full evaluation should be undertaken. It is not always possible to measure the expected benefits and alternative options should include a ‘do nothing’ option. This should include an opinion from the finance business partner and management economists as to whether the proposal passes this test prior to approval.
The value for money of an investment in the HACS remains convincing. This is due to the growing threat to human and animal health from zoonotic diseases (those which can be transmitted from animals to humans), the importance of biosecurity to UK economic activity and the importance of science to the UK as a whole. There is an urgent need for the existing Weybridge site to be secured and developed to meet these challenges in the future. The expected benefits should far outweigh the costs because:
- It will safeguard and enhance the UK’s ability to undertake surveillance, testing and containment of animal pathogen outbreaks. This will reduce or avoid costs that would otherwise occur in terms of damage to animal and human health.
- It will provide the ability to support and expand the UK’s opportunities for international trade in animal products. Without Weybridge’s operations, the UK cannot export or import these products, risking the loss of domestic and international trade in POAO and economic costs to the agricultural sector.
- The Weybridge site will unlock societal benefits through improved scientific research and knowledge generated by the larger and better facilities. This concerns both business opportunities in related sectors, including human health; and the broader economic effects of sharing knowledge and improving policies.
Overall Assessment: Achieved
The question is whether the proposed policy can be carried out effectively and credibly. In short, are we convinced that it can be achieved in accordance with political intentions.
Since the launch of HACS in March 2020, work was carried out on a detailed plan for the redevelopment of the Weybridge site. This provided a detailed understanding of the program requirements, its estimated costs and the likely delivery schedule, which is estimated at 15 years.
The complex nature of high-containment construction and the impacts of working at a live, space-restricted operational site are such that there remain significant risks and uncertainties at this early stage of such a large program.
The program intends to manage this risk by proceeding in phases of delivery. The first of these (“Tranche 1”) will make it possible to make a “no regrets” transition and allow work to continue progressing the development of the site. It will also re-test the basic assumptions of the delivery plan (such as the extent of use of temporary buildings) to optimize cost and schedule and reduce risk where possible. The outcome of this work will be reflected in another business case in June 2024, which will establish a revised delivery plan for the rest of the program.
Overall assessment: partially achieved
This is a Defra AO test and a subset of the HMT Property testing; but given its own assessment because of its critical importance. Therefore, we explicitly ask how the proposal will be funded and whether it has full budget coverage.
The program is fully funded, from 2021-2022 (the current financial year) to 2024-2025 (the last year of the next three-year spending review period) at £198 million and therefore the program remains affordable during this period. . Expenditure approval for Tranche 1 has now been approved after careful review of the business case by HMT and the API. For this reason, we consider that this criterion is met.
Future spending reviews will confirm allocations for years beyond 2024-25.
Overall Assessment: Achieved
We have completed a compliance assessment of the proposed expenditures for the transformation of the animal science facility at Weybridge, conducted through the Animal Health Science Capacity (HACS) Program, against accounting officer tests.
The Accountant’s tests described above assessed regularity, timeliness, feasibility, value for money and affordability. Overall, my assessment is that these tests were met, with the feasibility test only partially met.
8. Signature of accountant
As Defra’s accountant, I have reviewed this assessment of the HACS program and approved it on December 21, 2021.
I have prepared this summary to outline the key points that informed my decision. If any of these factors change materially during the life of this project, I undertake to prepare a revised summary, setting out my assessment of them.
This summary will be published on the government website (GOV.UK). Copies will be deposited in the Library of the House of Commons and sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General and Treasury Accounts Officer.
April 25, 2022