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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 13:27 GMT
Foot-and-mouth workers' action over pay
Cows culled because of foot-and-mouth at a Devon farm
Close to 2,500 firms were involved in cleaning cull sites
Contractors in the South West, who cleaned up farms following foot-and-mouth culls, are considering legal action against the government because they have not been paid.

Lawyers acting for a group of contractors claim the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (Defra) is delaying paying a total of 20m owed to the workers.

The lawyers claim the lack of payment could threaten any cleaning operation required if the epidemic struck again.

But a spokesman for the department said that 80% of those employed in the clear-up process have been paid but insisted "fiscal control" had to be applied to any payments.

Contractor's hardship

Tim Russ, of Bristol-based law firm Clarke Willmott and Clarke, said legal action against the government seemed inevitable.

"This work was done six or seven months ago and the lack of payment is causing hardship, firms are finding it hard to pay subcontractors," he said.

"Defra have a duty to investigate whether public money is spent properly but they are dragging their heels.

"This will create a much wider problem if there is a resurgence of this dreadful disease.

"Contractors won't do the work again if they haven't been paid for the last job.

"If the allegation is that they are untrustworthy, that's why their invoice is being scrutinised, then why should firms leave themselves open to that allegation again," he said.

'Majority paid'

A Defra spokesman said close to 2,500 contractors or farmers were used to clean-up cull sites.

"Defra has already paid the majority of invoices demanded for clean-up services during the crisis," the spokesman said.

"The department has paid 275m in cleaning compensation.

"There is a need to validate invoices properly before payment is made and in some cases that has resulted in delay in payment but it is necessary to ensure proper fiscal control on taxpayers money.

"The amount of outstanding invoices is small in comparison to those that have been paid, we need to work with those contractors that feel they have been aggrieved," he said.

See also:

03 Mar 02 | England
Disease scare farm gets all clear
05 Mar 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth factfile
27 Feb 02 | England
Sentinels on guard against disease
27 Feb 02 | England
Pollution fears of animal pyres
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