Part 3: Preparedness and capability

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions.
Preparedness and capability.

In this Part, we discuss preparing for incursions, including foot and mouth disease, and opportunities to strengthen capability.


The latest restructure provides an opportunity for a fresh look at biosecurity readiness and response. However, biosecurity's long-term track record of delivering change is not good and the new management team have inherited some big challenges.

The Ministry's plan for dealing with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease is weak. The Ministry is aware of this and preparing for foot and mouth disease is now a higher priority. Work is under way and some improvements have been made, but there is a lot to do. We found a lack of preparedness in several areas. More than $8 million has been invested in foot and mouth disease vaccine without a plan for deployment.

The Ministry has lacked a strategic approach to capability. This includes workforce planning and, with some exceptions, its approach to information and information technology. Both of these areas represent serious risks for the Ministry.

Exercise Taurus 2012 was the first foot and mouth disease simulation since 2005. The Ministry is proposing more regular testing of a range of diseases, which is a significant improvement. Not enough simulation and testing of systems means a lack of assurance about whether plans and preparations are fit for purpose.

Contracting practice was criticised in 2007 by Audit New Zealand, and by 2011 performance had improved considerably. But the Ministry was advised that maintaining this performance was unlikely, unless action was taken. In 2012, response partners report that contracting with the Ministry is inefficient and frustrating.

The National Biosecurity Capability Network is a sound idea but, after three years, has not yet delivered what was envisaged. There are opportunities to reconsider how this, and the Ministry's arrangements with AsureQuality, should work in future.

Preparing for incursions

In the past not enough priority was given to being prepared

For some time before the recent restructuring, the frequency of responses and a lack of priority for preparing for threats meant that responding to current threats took precedence over being proactive and preparing for potential threats.

The Ministry defines this proactive non-response work as business as usual (BAU). As a response is activated, Ministry staff join the response team and leave behind their BAU work. Many staff report an uncomfortable, improperly managed, tension between working on responses and working on preparing proactive plans and tools that would help mitigate risks from future incursions. In the past, this has been the main reason BAU work was often delayed or did not take place. Without clear leadership and direction about priorities, staff have found it difficult to prepare for possible threats.

Business planning has not always reflected the effect of responses on preparedness

Responding to incursions often means BAU work stops or is delayed. The potential for staff to be diverted from BAU work onto response teams is effectively a reduction in overall capacity. However, this reduction has not always been reflected in business planning. When BAU is stopped or delayed, a large backlog of work can build up. For example, during the Psa response, the Plant Health Environment Laboratory had to re-prioritise its BAU work to release resources to work on the response. This resulted in an eight-month backlog of BAU work.

The lack of realistic business planning also affected the preparation of new response plans and the testing of existing response plans. On paper, the Ministry has 18 plans for high-risk organisms in various states of completion. Insufficient resources have meant that many of the plans have not been completed or tested to ensure that they are fit for purpose.

Plans need to be reviewed regularly to reflect wider changes in technology and society. For example, the 2012 Queensland fruit fly response highlighted that the Ministry was unaware of the availability of 24-hour, seven-day translation services, which delayed the response's communication with some sections of the public. It is unrealistic to expect the tension between response and BAU work to disappear. Managing it will require acknowledging the effective reduction in capacity and reflecting this in ambitions and work plans.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries make all biosecurity planning more realistic by ensuring that plans reflect likely constraints on resources and reflect more accurately the capacity available to deliver them.
Recommendation 2
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries complete response plans for high-risk organisms, including foot and mouth disease, and review them at regular intervals to provide assurance that they are fit for purpose.

Preparatory work did not always consider practical and operational matters

The Ministry's Psa response in 2010 highlighted the lack of preparation for large responses, including the necessary capacity for the volume of work required. Reserve capacity does not need to be in-house, where it might inefficiently sit idle for long periods – it could be sourced externally when needed. However, as demonstrated in the Psa response (see paragraph 3.14), without careful preparation and planning, extra capacity of the appropriate quality standard is unlikely to be available when required at short notice.

In the Psa response, we found that:

  • Laboratory capacity is sometimes a bottleneck that could be better prepared for. Kiwifruit producers perceived the length of time taken to determine whether their property was infected to be the biggest hindrance to an effective response. One of the first tasks in an incursion is to discover how far the pest or disease has spread so that the response can be targeted. At first, it took an average of 10 days to sample, test, and report back. Without quick testing, it was difficult to measure how widespread Psa was. The response team quickly identified the need for a quicker test and extra laboratory capacity. A quicker test was prepared, but finding extra laboratory capacity outside the Ministry was more difficult because it needed to meet the right quality standard. This concept was not well understood by all parties and it took more than two months to get this in place. It is critical that the Ministry investigates and prepares for making best use of external laboratory capacity and capability so that it is ready to be deployed at short notice.
  • Large amounts of waste plant material needed to be destroyed. The first attempt was to burn the waste material, but this method could not cope with the volume of waste generated and a decision was made to bury it. The Ministry had no plans for dealing with this, so the Ministry and the local council collaborated to quickly identify a site. However, in the high-pressure environment of the response, the Ministry and local council did not consult local iwi, which caused problems and introduced delay and tension.

There have been some recent improvements to preparedness

The Ministry has recognised the need for more plan reviews and testing of systems. A review of the Queensland fruit fly response plan is under way. This and Exercise Taurus 2012 are both signs of a new attitude to testing. The Ministry has prepared a plan for consolidating and acting on recommendations from the Exercise Taurus 2012 simulation and other recent reports. The recommendations from these reviews have been grouped under themes, and each has been established as a programme of work with defined governance arrangements.

The restructure should also improve preparedness. Preparatory work and partnerships are now in one directorate, which is in the same branch as the response directorate (see paragraph 3.51). This grouping of directorates should allow better prioritisation through a single Deputy Director-General. We consider that this goes some way to resolving the balance between prioritising response and preparedness. However, the new preparatory work and partnerships directorate has few staff and focuses on co-ordinating preparations, not on preparedness work. And, although the restructuring is a positive move, without proper prioritisation, performance management, and accountability, the new structure will not completely resolve the difficulties of balancing the demands of response and preparedness.

Preparing for foot and mouth disease

The Ministry has made some recent progress, but we consider that, overall, it is under-prepared for foot and mouth disease. We reviewed aspects of the Ministry's preparedness, limiting our analysis to modelling, laboratories, carcass disposal, and vaccination – all tangible preparedness matters that caused problems during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom in 2001.

Foot and mouth disease is a significant biosecurity threat to New Zealand

In 2002, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand estimated that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by $8 billion after one year and $13 billion after two years (in 2012 prices). In 2012, New Zealand's GDP was $207 billion, which means an outbreak could devastate the country's economy.

Foot and mouth disease is an infectious viral animal disease and spreads quickly among closely confined susceptible animals. It is easily recognised in cattle and pigs, but sheep often do not display symptoms so the disease can go unnoticed. There is a risk that an outbreak might not be detected quickly.

Foot and mouth disease is a complex disease

There are seven different forms, or serotypes, of the foot and mouth disease virus. Each serotype behaves slightly differently and produces a distinct response in an animal's immune system. Infection with one serotype does not give immunity to another serotype. The disease continues to spread around the world. This means that the Ministry's preparations for an outbreak should be sophisticated enough to deal with the disease's complexity and variability.

The Ministry is aware of the risk of an outbreak. In 2002, the Ministry made an assessment of the risks that foot and mouth disease poses to New Zealand.6 The Ministry concluded there was a low likelihood of the virus entering the country in legally imported animals and animal products because of the risk management measures in place. In addition, strict border controls are designed to minimise the risk of illegal meat importation.

Preparing for foot and mouth disease is now a higher priority but there is much to do

In late 2010, the Ministry identified that there were many ways in which preparations for a foot and mouth disease incursion needed strengthening. Since 2005, some structural limitations had built up and the Ministry identified that it needed to:

  • set up better overall governance for foot and mouth disease preparedness to reduce the risk of duplication or gaps;
  • clarify decision-making responsibilities – that is, who is responsible for deciding what;
  • define accountability for approving policies and their underpinning work;
  • create an agreed foot and mouth disease scenario for all partners to prepare against; and
  • update the foot and mouth disease response plan to ensure that it was up to date, comprehensive, formally approved, and widely discussed with industry and other affected parties.

The Ministry has begun to address these weaknesses, but there is still much to do. Recent work has delivered a joint Ministry-industry review of foot and mouth disease preparedness in September 2011, the Whole-of-Government Biosecurity Response Guide in June 2011,7 and Exercise Taurus 2012, the first large-scale simulation for seven years.

Exercise Taurus 2012 was a successful learning opportunity. One effect of the exercise was to highlight that the restructuring and staff turnover had reduced the Ministry's familiarity with foot and mouth disease and that this needs rebuilding.

The Ministry's plan for dealing with foot and mouth disease (FMD) is weak. We found that the Ministry's FMD Biosecurity Response Plan version 12.0 (the FMD plan) is more a collection of policy statements than a comprehensive plan. The Ministry considers its FMD plan to be a working document and the basis for discussion and review. However, Appendix 10 in the FMD plan, which refers to carcass disposal guidelines and foot and mouth disease modelling, is empty. The plan leaves the Ministry under-prepared to deal with some practical matters.

The Ministry has the tools to model a foot and mouth disease outbreak but needs to take this work further

Disease simulation models can be valuable in preparing for an incursion. They are useful for answering questions about the effects of outbreaks and control actions before an outbreak happens. In partnership with Massey University and AsureQuality, the Ministry prepared the New Zealand Standard Model, which has been tailored to fit the known characteristics of foot and mouth disease and New Zealand's industry structure, patterns of animal movement, and other important criteria. The New Zealand Standard Model is significant step forward because this means the Ministry can experiment with outbreak scenarios using different control and surveillance strategies.

The Ministry has introduced more consistency to its preparations by creating a standard foot and mouth disease outbreak scenario (the "standard scenario"). A scenario is a set of assumptions about the patterns and behaviour of a future outbreak. The standard scenario has been chosen because it is seen as being the "most likely" and is an improvement over the previous scenario known as the "20-10-10". The standard scenario is a significant step forward in ensuring that the Ministry, AsureQuality, and other interested parties plan for an outbreak in a consistent manner. The Ministry can compare how all parties prepare and ensure that any further work is consistent.

However, there are substantial lessons still to be learnt from the United Kingdom's experience in 2001. We reviewed how the Ministry's scenario modelling helped preparedness planning and compared it with the United Kingdom's experience. Figure 4 shows this comparison. The idea of interested parties planning consistently using the standard scenario is sound, but the Ministry needs to go further if it is to maximise the value of the United Kingdom's experience.

Figure 4
New Zealand's 2012 preparedness for foot and mouth disease compared with the United Kingdom's preparedness and experience in 2001

United Kingdom preparedness United Kingdom experience New Zealand preparedness
Plans were based on the most likely scenario. The outbreak was far worse than the most likely scenario. Preparedness is based on the most likely scenario.
Plans assumed that no more than 10 premises would be infected at any one time. By the time of first detection, at least 57 premises were infected. The standard scenario* assumes 21 infected premises at the time of first detection.
Plans did not consider a worse case scenario. The United Kingdom authorities did not stress-test their response plan and found it difficult to scale up.

More than 200 emergency instructions during the outbreak reflected policy changes being made "on the fly" and led to making decisions haphazardly, poor outcomes, and a loss of public confidence.
Plans do not consider a worst-case scenario.

* The standard scenario assumes a "silent spread" of 9 days (see Figure 5). Silent spread significantly influences the size of an outbreak.

Sources: Columns 1 and 2: United Kingdom Cabinet Office (2002) Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry Report (Anderson Inquiry, available at; National Audit Office (2002) The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, available at Column 3: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Good practice suggests that one way to achieve a stronger position is to prepare a worst-case scenario. We found no evidence of worst-case scenario planning. The Ministry's modelling team have prepared two other scenarios. These were prepared for another purpose and use some different assumptions from the standard scenario. Recognising these limitations, we have compared them with the standard scenario in the absence of anything else. Figure 5 shows that the medium and large outbreak forecasts are much bigger than the standard scenario.

Figure 5
Modelled scenarios for foot and mouth disease outbreaks

Outbreak criteria Size of modelled outbreak
Standard Medium Large
Number Number Times bigger than standard scenario Number Times bigger than standard scenario
"Silent spread" period chosen (days)* 9 21 2.3 21 2.3
Average length of outbreak (days) 71 105 1.5 225 2.4
Maximum length of outbreak (days) 92 281 3.1 293 3.2
Maximum number of infected premises 280 2650 9.5 3362 12.0
Total number of animals killed (see footnote 9) 33,429 313,714 9.4 982,602 29.4

*"Silent spread" is the time between the first infection and diagnosis. It is a significant influence on the size of an outbreak. This is a user-selected input to the model. A 21-day silent spread was a significant factor in the eventual size of the 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Despite some good progress, the Animal Health Laboratory's preparations for foot and mouth disease are not yet fit for purpose

Given the highly infectious nature of the foot and mouth disease virus and its ability to spread rapidly among susceptible animal populations, accurate and rapid diagnosis of both the initial incursion and subsequent cases from infected properties are crucial to managing an incursion. For many years, New Zealand relied on sending samples to a specialist centre in the United Kingdom. However, this reduced control and could delay the diagnostic process. In 1996, the Ministry helped to design the current enhanced PC3 bio-containment laboratory (see paragraph 3.32) which is part of the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL).

During the last five years, the AHL has worked on preparing for a foot and mouth disease outbreak. Our evaluation of these preparations shows that there is still much to be done to make these fit for purpose, especially to work out the practicalities of support and logistics. Appendix 2 lists the comparative strengths and weaknesses of these preparations.

The Ministry has been slow in planning for laboratory replacement

The AHL is accredited to the competence standard ISO:17025 and is audited regularly. For foot and mouth disease and other infectious diseases, containment in the laboratory is important to stop a disease spreading. One part of the AHL is classed as a PC3+ or enhanced PC3 level laboratory (the enhanced PC3 bio-containment laboratory) and meets the necessary standard.8 This means that it has the second-highest possible level of micro-organism containment, with elements of the highest level. It is the country's only laboratory of this type.

Designed in 1996, the enhanced PC3 bio-containment laboratory has a design life of 15 to 20 years. Because of its age, it is starting to show wear and tear, maintenance needs are growing, and the risk of a breakdown is increasing. If a breakdown happened during a foot and mouth disease response, it is likely that the enhanced PC3 bio-containment laboratory would be shut down, rather than risk an escape of the virus. This would be a major barrier to dealing effectively with an outbreak.

The AHL's managers have thought through some of the work flow implications of a larger outbreak. However, they have not yet recorded these thoughts, or the practicalities of how to deal with them in the laboratory plan. A larger outbreak may mean that foot and mouth disease work would be done in laboratory areas with a lower level of containment and/or the laboratory would have to significantly modify its operating methods. Both of these options could increase the risk of major problems, such as virus escape and/or misdiagnosis.

Funding has been made available for preparing a business case for laboratory replacement in 2012/13. Early indications, which are subject to change, are that a new laboratory could be in operation sometime around 2017/18. However, until a new laboratory is in place, significant risks to foot and mouth disease capability remain.

The Ministry is under-prepared for carcass disposal

In 2001, the United Kingdom's foot and mouth disease outbreak caused huge logistical problems in disposing of slaughtered animals. More than four million were slaughtered and the backlog awaiting disposal peaked at more than 200,000 carcasses. The Ministry's plan does not contain any details on how carcass disposal will be dealt with. The Ministry researched disposal options in 2004, but we could not find any evidence that this was converted into an operational plan. This means that the Ministry has put resources into preparedness research, but failed to realise the benefits by putting it to practical use.

The New Zealand Standard Model's large outbreak scenario estimates that about a million animals would be slaughtered (see Figure 5). Figure 6 tries to show how big the size of this problem could be.

Figure 6
Potential difficulties in disposing of slaughtered animals during a foot and mouth disease outbreak

Figure 6 - Potential diffi culties in disposing of slaughtered animals during a foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Sources: UK outbreak data from National Audit Office (2002) The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, available at Typical animal dimensions data are from Federated Farmers of New Zealand (NZ) Incorporated.

More work on planning for the potential use of vaccination is needed

Internationally, vaccinating animals is considered an important potential tool in managing an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Generally, there are two vaccination strategies that are used to help control an outbreak:

  • vaccination to live – emergency vaccination to protect animals from disease in a restricted area; and
  • vaccination to die – emergency vaccination of animals in a restricted area to reduce the potential of the disease spreading, with slaughter at a later date. This approach is effectively a holding measure should "stamping out"9 be overwhelmed.

Each of the vaccination strategies will have different implications for biosecurity response logistics, international trade, disease-free status, and public opinion. However, because vaccination during an outbreak is not a simple remedy and can be carried out for different purposes, it is not likely that the public would readily understand the different vaccination strategies.

After the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom, the Anderson10 inquiry in 2002 reported that:

... vaccination was one of the most hotly debated, yet misunderstood, aspects of the FMD epidemic ... contingency planning for vaccination was minimal ... the scientific and practical pros and cons of vaccination options and their implications for trade should have been thought through in advance of the outbreak.

The Ministry carried out some research on vaccination in 2002 and 2003, including evaluating its use in the Netherlands' outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. This work showed that the logistical requirements for vaccinating could be considerable. Also, the justification for "vaccination to die" breaks down if the resource required to implement it hinders other essential tasks, such as detecting and slaughtering infected animals. Because of the complexity surrounding vaccine use, it is possible that the vaccine may never be used.

Additional Ministry work in 2009 included a technical evaluation of the Ministry's vaccine bank and preparation of a vaccination decision support tool. This tool, which draws on international best practice, provides standardised and generic decision criteria supported by a decision tree flow chart. This should help the Ministry to make better decisions, should vaccination be required, but has not been tested or used in a simulation.

However, despite all of the previous work by the Ministry, we found no evidence of an operational plan setting out the practical requirements of vaccination and how these will be dealt with. We have reviewed the Ministry's undated document "Operating plan for the management of vaccines" but we consider this to be a policy statement rather than a practical plan. The Ministry's Knowledge Base contains generic guidance on organism management and contains some specific guidance on managing a fruit fly incursion, but there is none about foot and mouth disease vaccination.

New Zealand was a member of an international foot and mouth disease vaccine bank until about 2005, when the international agreement ceased. Since 2005, the Ministry has maintained access to a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank through a five-year contract with a commercial vaccine manufacturer (Merial) in the United Kingdom. The 2005 contract was renewed in 2010 for a further five years. The 2010 contract renewal process included an options appraisal to determine the best option for maintaining access to a vaccine. Since 2005, the Ministry has spent about $8.5 million on vaccine.

The original 2005 contract was funded though a "New initiative" funding bid in 2004/05. The documents supporting this funding bid contained the following unrefined cost-benefit analysis:

... In the event of a FMD outbreak resulting in a 6 billion dollar cumulative loss in GDP, the cost of approximately three million to establish a New Zealand reserve is minor.

Overall, we conclude that the Ministry has no operational plan of how it will use the foot and mouth disease vaccine if it is ever needed. This is a serious weakness because there are many potential problems that need to be foreseen and planned for if vaccination is to provide any advantage in managing an outbreak.

The vaccine is a potentially useful tool, but the Ministry is not well positioned to deploy it cost-effectively. Without an operational plan or any modelling of vaccine deployment, the Ministry:

  • cannot determine the direct costs of deploying the vaccine; and
  • cannot quantify the benefits of using the vaccine.

Without a robust idea of costs and benefits it is difficult to show that the investment of $8.5 million is justified.

Generally, the Ministry is improving its preparedness for foot and mouth disease

In August 2012, the Ministry approved a plan to strengthen preparations for a foot and mouth disease incursion.11 Figure 7 shows those parts of the plan that are most relevant to our audit. If successfully put into effect, these activities will strengthen arrangements, but will take time.

Figure 7
How the Ministry for Primary Industries is improving its preparedness for a foot and mouth disease outbreak

Activity Deadlines and progress
Getting better prepared for an outbreak by:
  • setting up an agreed national strategy for foot and mouth disease;
  • developing a vaccination policy and approach;
  • work to allow for disposing of carcasses in an emergency; and
  • updating the response plan.
The full programme was planned and agreed by 31 December 2012, subject to industry engagement through GIA and the foot and mouth disease joint working group.
Improving how the Ministry manages a response and flows of information by:
  • integrating all relevant information systems for responding to incursions; and
  • regularly using all core information systems so that staff have practised roles for when there is a large response and systems will have improved during smaller events.
Project planned and agreed by 30 June 2013.

Began in September 2012 and was then made part of business as usual.
Improve capability and capacity by:
  • identifying those staff who have the appropriate technical and leadership capability to have the main roles in a response; and
  • identifying, testing, and strengthening staff leadership skills.
31 December 2012
Prepare exercises to test and check how prepared New Zealand is for a foot and mouth disease outbreak. 30 June 2013
Ensure that there is appropriate infrastructure to maintain high-level containment laboratories. Stage 1 Business Case under way.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Recommendation 3
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries prepare better for a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease by:
  • building on Exercise Taurus 2012 and developing and delivering a regular programme of foot and mouth disease testing and simulation;
  • completing an early simulation to test the Animal Health Laboratory's foot and mouth disease readiness, which is a potential bottleneck but remains largely untested;
  • reducing the risk of a breakdown in the enhanced bio-containment laboratory by replacing it at the earliest possible date;
  • creating a plan to undertake carcass disposal across a range of outbreak sizes; and
  • creating a plan of how the vaccine could be used, demonstrating that it is practical to do so, and the potential value for money that would be provided from investing in the vaccine.

Organisational capability

What we mean by capability

For biosecurity, the Ministry needs a pool of different capabilities to deal with incursions. Capability includes personnel, training, equipment, facilities, information, organisation, and logistics. These are used in various combinations to respond to biosecurity incursions. Capability needs to be carefully managed and maintained over time.

Opportunities to improve capability through restructuring

The creation of the new Ministry for Primary Industries in April 2012 was the end result of merging the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry with the New Zealand Food Safety Authority in July 2010 and the Ministry of Fisheries in July 2011. This created a single organisation focused on exports, productivity, and protection from biological risks.

The restructure has resulted in new managers with different and more diverse backgrounds who can look at the organisation from a different perspective. The new management structure is an opportunity for a fresh look at biosecurity response and readiness. The new structure brings surveillance, response, and investigation and diagnostic centres into one branch led by the Deputy Director-General of Compliance and Response. Within the branch, there are two new directorates:

  • Preparedness and Partnerships, which creates a single point to co-ordinate all preparedness work and partnership business; and
  • Investigation Diagnostic Centres and Response, which brings together surveillance, incursion investigation, laboratories, and response into one directorate.

Responsibility is now clearer and less splintered. The new arrangements are more coherent, which should create conditions for more collaborative work between the various Ministry teams involved in biosecurity response and preparedness.

People capability

Biosecurity capability and workforce planning has been weak

For all organisations, there is a trade-off between investment, capability, and consequent risk. It is vital that the Ministry knows what capability it needs so that it can manage risk. We found no evidence that, before 2011, the Ministry had a strategic approach to capability. We found no history of systematic analysis of capability and how this compared with what was needed to manage biosecurity threats.

Workforce planning is critical. An effective workforce plan ensures that an organisation has a workforce of the right size, with the appropriate skills, in the right place. It encourages managers to prepare and plan for changes rather than react to them. It ensures that organisations going through change are better equipped to handle the workforce implications.

The Treasury's Better Administrative and Support Services (BASS) report provides information about the cost, efficiency, and effectiveness of administrative and support services in the public sector. It benchmarks performance against a set of good practice standards. The BASS report defined workforce planning as a statement that:

... anticipates the workforce requirements of the organisation over the medium-term (at least three years) and an action plan agreed by the Executive/Corporate Management Team which sets out how those requirements are met and is monitored on a 6 monthly or more frequent basis.

Our review of the 2010/11 BASS data shows that the Ministry failed the workforce plan standard.

Complex work needs specialist staff

We have chosen to show some of the capability challenges the Ministry faces in the marine environment and the aquaculture industry. The marine environment is difficult and complex to work in because less is known about marine diseases than land-based diseases. Although there will be some new and emerging pests and diseases for land-based animals and plants, new and emerging pests and diseases are likely to be more prevalent in the marine context. Figure 8 shows that aquaculture is a growing industry and likely to generate more incursions requiring responses.

Figure 8
Increasing importance of aquaculture and biosecurity

Aquaculture New Zealand estimates that the aquaculture industry is worth more than $380 million and it is expanding. The Government is committed to enabling the aquaculture industry to achieve its goal of $1 billion annual sales by 2025. By around 2015, growth is forecast to increase more rapidly as the new capacity being introduced leads to increased production. Ministry staff and stakeholders report that the focus on this sector is likely to increase reported incursions and biosecurity issues.

Sources: Ministry for Primary Industries, Government Aquaculture strategy, Aquaculture New Zealand

Complex responses need specialist input. For example, there are hundreds of species of fish and shellfish but scientists have only limited knowledge of their endemic disease status or exposure to exotic diseases. Compared with many agricultural farming enterprises, aquaculture's stocking density and stock movement are generally high. These are biosecurity risks.

When we looked at the example of juvenile oyster mortality, we found that oyster deaths were because of a virus, but the outbreak was most likely brought on by environmental factors. Investigating and responding to these types of outbreaks, where many factors contribute to the situation, is difficult and requires specialist input.

The Ministry is doing more work in aquaculture, but laboratory capacity and capability is not keeping pace. The growth of aquaculture has led to more work for the AHL. A cap on headcount means that any increase in staff involved in aquaculture must come from within the Ministry's resources. The Ministry needs to make choices about where it commits staff resources and this requires the setting of priorities. However, without a strategic view of the workforce and its capability, it is difficult to see how the Ministry can prioritise. Without access to appropriate expertise, there is a risk that responses may be delayed or be beyond the Ministry's capability, with subsequent economic loss or degradation of the environment.

The Ministry is planning improvements

The Ministry's Statement of Intent 2012-2015 commits to improving capability, including creating a strategy for people capability and leadership training, to be supported by new information systems for human resource management, records management, and time recording (see paragraph 3.65 for more information about the Ministry's new IT plan). If put into effect, this should mean a stronger, longer-term approach to improving capability.

Information capability

Information is a significant resource in a biosecurity system. Information must be well organised and shared so that decisions and efforts are well co-ordinated and focused. Information is also valuable in determining how well the system is performing. There should be routine and regular use of information to measure performance. Without a sound approach to information, there are risks of gaps, duplication, inconsistency, and poor accessibility.

A strategic approach to information technology has been lacking

The Ministry has a poor track record in this area. There are signs of improvement, but the task is large.

An Information Systems Strategic Plan (ISSP) sets out the Ministry's plans for how information technology (IT) will support its organisational objectives and mission. Many people who worked at the Ministry in 2009 no longer work there, which made it difficult to find out with certainty if the 2009 ISSP was fully put into effect – but it is unlikely. Reported barriers include extended redrafting, organisational restructuring, and a lack of priority. This means that many of the Ministry's information systems are not as integrated or as functional as they could be.

The Ministry's earlier failure to prioritise a strategic view of IT has resulted in several problems that affect its biosecurity operations:

  • Information systems are fragmented. For example, the Ministry now has six different organism databases and more than 600 separate IT systems. Having so many systems can lead to inefficiency and poor data quality.
  • Risks have been poorly managed. Obvious risks have built up, such as staff who are system-critical because they are the only ones with enough expertise. If they left or fell ill, there would be no one with the same expertise available.
  • There is a risk of poor data quality. Some IT systems do not communicate with one another. For example, both laboratories use the Laboratory Information Management System. This cannot communicate with the Ministry's other systems, so data has to be entered twice, which is inefficient and a risk to data quality.

Poor information governance

Information governance should include creating, storing, using, archiving, and deleting information. The Gartner Group, a global information technology research and advisory company, states that information governance:

... includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.12

The costs of poor information governance can include failed business processes and lower productivity. Lost, inaccurate, or incomplete information can mean higher costs and extra work.

Biosecurity operations have not followed sound information governance practice. There has been little or no recognition of the resulting risks. Many biosecurity responses rely on the use of stand-alone spreadsheets and databases for capturing and analysing information, but this introduces risks. These programs are not designed for multiple users, so sharing is difficult and they do not have inbuilt back-up to safeguard data. In smaller responses, this is not such a problem. However, in large responses, this can cause significant problems. For example, staff on the Psa response had difficulties in managing data between teams and keeping control of different versions of spreadsheets and databases. Without good information, there is a risk of poor decision-making.

Risks of current information systems

The Ministry's large responses depend on an information system that carries major risks. The Incursion Response System (IRS) supports large biosecurity responses. Work on refining IRS has been ongoing since about 2002. The Ministry has invested about $2.25 million so far. IRS has particular characteristics that present challenges:

  • IRS is suitable only for big responses, such as Queensland fruit fly or foot and mouth disease. It has been used only seven times during the last seven years. Keeping staff up to date with the system is difficult and some are unfamiliar with it.
  • Setting it up takes a long time, typically a full day, so the decision to use it needs to be made early in the response – otherwise, the information lags behind the response, reducing its usefulness.
  • The weakest point is the timing of the decision to use it. This is not easy because this point comes when the decision-making environment is busy, high-pressure, and ambiguous. Failure to do so early enough may mean IRS never catches up with the response, which limits its effectiveness.
  • IRS relies on large amounts of manual data entry, which can be inefficient and costly.

Figure 9 shows how these risks can combine during a response, if not mitigated properly.

Figure 9
Using the Incursion Response System in large responses

The recent Psa response used IRS, but the decision to use it was about two weeks too late. Despite this, the response team persevered with using it because no alternative was available. Data entry required 15 staff and cost about $60,000, but the system continued to lag the response, which limited its effectiveness.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries.

Some information system improvements are under way

Some IT systems are making reasonable progress. Farms Online (FOL) has been successful so far. FOL is a database of information about the ownership and management of all rural properties, land use, and stock. The project is on time, to budget, and performance has exceeded its targets. This should ensure that essential information for a quick response to a biosecurity incursion is available.

The Biosecurity Response Knowledge Base (the Knowledge Base) underpins the Ministry's response system. This is a store for the flowcharts, standards, and other tools for leading and managing biosecurity responses. As a toolbox to support responses, the Knowledge Base is innovative, comprehensive, well thought out, and accessible from the Internet.

The National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) project has been completed on budget and on time. NAIT is an animal identification and tracing scheme linking people, property, and livestock. An earlier State Services Commission review found that NAIT has good support among interested parties, external and internal. The project team prepared the final phase on time despite several challenges, but had to make improvements to some aspects of decision-making, risk management, and project management.

The Ministry is improving the way it handles information. The Senior Leadership Team has approved a new ISSP for 2012, which sets a direction for the next five years. In contrast to the 2009 ISSP, which was focused on hardware and software projects, the 2012 ISSP states that IT should support and enable the Ministry's business. However, despite it being a five-year plan, only the first year has committed funding, which limits its usefulness as a long-term document. If fully put into effect, the 2012 ISSP should bring a greater degree of standardisation and integration and allow the Ministry to get more benefit from IT.

Some other improvements to information systems have begun. Work is under way to try to overcome some of the weaknesses by:

  • exploring how to get laboratory IT systems to communicate with other systems;
  • considering specific software to reduce the use of stand-alone spreadsheets and databases;
  • reducing risk by training staff to widen expertise and introducing risk registers for IT systems;
  • improving information governance through the forthcoming Information and Data Management Strategy; and
  • scoping investment for improving the IRS.

Better business systems and processes, if put into effect properly, will improve responses to incursions.

Recommendation 4
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries improve its:
  • staff capability by preparing a plan to deliver better response experience, training, and induction;
  • workforce planning so that it has the appropriate number of staff, with the required skills; and
  • creation, use, and storage of information by preparing a formal approach to information governance.

Contracting for external capability

Most of the people who would manage an incursion are employed by the Ministry. However, in larger responses, contractors provide much of the capacity and capability, especially for dealing directly with the incursion. Also, contractors provide help with specialised technical support and expert opinion.

Contracting with Crown research institutes needs to improve

Some response partners report that contracting with the Ministry is inefficient and frustrating. A Ministry-wide contracting review by Audit New Zealand in 2007 reported that there was a good framework and policy in place, but practice was weak. Problems included contracts being signed months late, long after agreements had come into force. Response partners have told us that this still occurs. The 2007 review concluded that the Ministry did not seem to be supportive of Crown research institutes (CRIs) and that there were many short-term contracts that gave CRIs neither certainty nor security and required considerable overheads to set up and manage. The 2007 review recommended that the Ministry use more strategic, long-term partnerships.

By 2011, Audit New Zealand reported that the Ministry had made significant progress and procurement practice was good, but it faced several immediate challenges in sustaining that performance. These included the loss of the manager chiefly responsible for the improvement in practice and the Chief Financial Officer, who had been a strong supporter of improving procurement. Additional issues were staff turnover in the procurement team and organisational restructures with the merger of the Ministry of Fisheries, which had different procurement practice.

At the time of our work in 2012, most response partners reported that they did not think the Ministry contracted with them efficiently, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10
Views about contracts

Does the Ministry contract with response partners in an efficient way?
Gum leaf skeletoniser Most comments negative.
Didymo Insufficient definitive responses.
Southern saltmarsh mosquito Most comments negative.
Kauri dieback Most comments negative.
Psa Most comments negative.
Juvenile oyster mortality Insufficient definitive responses.
Up arrow. most comments positive Left arrow. Right arrow. views were mixed overall
Most comments negative. most comments negative circle. insufficient definitive responses

Note: These views are from response partners for each of the examples we reviewed. See paragraphs 1.23 and 1.26-1.28, and Figure 3.

We consider that the Ministry has missed opportunities to streamline CRI contracting. The Ministry has not integrated how it buys scientific expertise for response work. Unlike the situation with surveillance work (see paragraph 2.30), there is no panel arrangement for CRI response work. A panel arrangement could potentially provide better value for money, ease response partners' frustrations, and contribute to meeting one of the 2003 biosecurity strategy's expectations.13 CRIs told us that the Ministry's contracts were inconsistent and could take too long to prepare.

One CRI said that it had a master contract and used schedules for different responses. This master contract agreed basic terms and conditions upfront and each transaction afterwards was a simple schedule to the master contract. This is good practice.

However, most other CRIs told us that the Ministry contracted separately for each response. Using multiple contracts is inefficient, expensive, and slow. It can make contracting unnecessarily difficult. Agreeing standard terms and conditions in a more strategic, longer-term way minimises renegotiation and provides more certainty and security. It could also provide the Ministry with better value for money.

The Ministry states that all operational activities in a response situation are now delivered through the National Biosecurity Capability Network (see paragraphs 3.88-3.93), which should streamline procurement. However, CRIs are not members of this network.

The Ministry has indicated that:

  • a review of master contracts is a major work-plan item for 2012/13; and
  • work is under way on a research procurement strategy, which may help improve the relationship with response partners.
Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries make contracting simpler, faster, and more efficient for response partners, and consider the use of a panel contract arrangement for procuring response services from Crown research institutes.

More clarity is needed on the roles and responsibilities of AsureQuality

The Ministry's main contract with AsureQuality is the Biosecurity Response Services (BRS) contract, which the Ministry reports was awarded following a fully contestable Request for Proposal process. Under the BRS contract, AsureQuality provides the Ministry with response field operations. In responses to larger incursions, AsureQuality provides a significant part of the Ministry's operations in the field. It also builds, maintains, and manages the National Biosecurity Capability Network, and allows for an overhead management function. The value of the BRS contract for 2011/12 was about $3.4 million. The BRS contract was created as a result of the Ministry recognising that a change of approach was required. The previous approach included various short-term arrangements with commercial providers that were called on during biosecurity responses.

Many response partners do not distinguish between AsureQuality staff and Ministry staff. During our audit, we were told of problems with the BRS contract. Sometimes, AsureQuality's role in the response system structure is not well understood. For example, kiwifruit producers did not understand what AsureQuality's role and responsibilities were and felt that the response operations staff they were dealing with lacked capability. As a result, kiwifruit producers considered that AsureQuality's work did not provide value for money. Contractual problems can lead to less effective responses and damage confidence in the Ministry and associated agencies.

National Biosecurity Capability Network arrangements need review

The National Biosecurity Capability Network (the Network) is a sound concept but has not yet delivered what it was set up to do. In 2009, the Ministry and AsureQuality jointly set up the Network. The Ministry recognised that it was no longer feasible or cost-effective to keep staff and other resources on standby, waiting to be called on during an incursion.

The Network's objective is to provide certainty that, in any biosecurity response situation, the required capability will be available and ready to act immediately. It aims to do this through a network of people and resources that can be called on to deal with biosecurity incursions at short notice across different responses and locations. At other times, Network members will continue their normal day-to-day business. Members come from various organisations including specialist private businesses, local government, and suppliers of machinery and other equipment.

The Network should be more efficient than earlier arrangements because it draws on existing capability rather than the Ministry building it from scratch. It also provides greater opportunity for interested parties, such as regional councils and industry, to have their staff with local or specialist knowledge participate in responses. The Network should also eliminate delays associated with forming contracts with suppliers during a biosecurity response.

Currently, the Ministry has little assurance that the Network will function as intended but it is improving. Between 2009 and 2012, there was no simulation or testing of the Network. A single desk-top deployment test of the Network took place in April 2012. This highlighted several risks and led to recommendations, including doing regular tests of the Network.

Use of the Network in responses is now more frequent, which should help to improve how it works, albeit in a higher-risk environment than a simulation. The success of this new approach was demonstrated in the 2012 Queensland fruit fly response, where a number of the Network members, including Auckland Council, were deployed as part of the response. However, more assurance is needed that the Network, as configured, will deliver consistently when required.

Network development has been slow. The Network concept was radically different and required the Ministry and AsureQuality to use a new business model. This new model means that AsureQuality now facilitates capability rather than providing it directly. This has taken some time to work through.

The Network has been operating for three years and is still far from its full potential. In that time, the Ministry has merged and restructured into an organisation different to the one that originally conceived the Network, potentially bringing a different workforce model. Also, the Ministry has revised the way that it works with others in biosecurity. These changes mean that the Ministry has less confidence that the original Network concept remains fit for purpose.

Recommendation 6
We recommend that the Ministry for Primary Industries make changes to the Biosecurity Response Services contract and the National Biosecurity Capability Network to reflect its new organisational structure and operating environment.

Capability testing

Simulation and testing was neglected but there are signs of change

In the past, the Ministry neglected simulation and testing of its overall preparedness and response capabilities. Staff told us that it was reasonable for each team to have two small exercises a year. Between 2005 and 2011, there was one exercise throughout the Ministry about every two years, but some staff recalled little or nothing about these exercises when we asked them. There were no foot and mouth disease simulation exercises between 2005 and 2012. Not enough simulation means a lack of assurance over whether plans and preparations are fit for purpose.

One of the first decisions the Ministry's new management team took was to hold Exercise Taurus 2012, a foot and mouth disease simulation exercise. Afterwards, 96% of those who answered an evaluation survey thought that the exercise provided good practice in responding to a foot and mouth disease outbreak and 93% of respondents thought that the exercise was a good learning experience. The objective of the exercise was to identify ways to improve. Three ways to improve were identified:

  • ensuring that participants are clear about roles and responsibilities – 31% of respondents said they needed to understand roles and responsibilities more clearly;
  • having reliable information available for making decisions – 30% of respondents considered that such information was lacking; and
  • improving capability and experience – many respondents said that role holders lacked the necessary capability and experience.

The Ministry recognises that it needs to hold simulations more regularly and is planning to do this. Exercise Taurus 2012 also generated other benefits. It raised staff morale and team spirit after a time of organisational uncertainty. We saw an appetite among many staff for more simulations. This should help to improve performance during responses and begin to build a culture of learning throughout the organisation.

6: Pharo, HJ (2002), "Foot-and-mouth disease: an assessment of the risks facing New Zealand", New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Vol. 50, No. 2, pages 46-55.

7: Available at

8: AS/NZS 2243.3:2002 – Safety in Laboratories: Part 3 – Microbiological aspects and containment facilities. The standard is incorporated in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (Low-Risk Genetic Modification) Regulations 2003.

9: Current MPI policy is to overcome foot and mouth disease through the quarantine and slaughter of all susceptible animals that are infected or exposed to the disease, informally known as "stamping-out".

10: United Kingdom Cabinet Office (2002), Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry Report (Anderson Inquiry), available at

11: Ministry for Primary Industries (2012), Biosecurity response preparedness implementation plan for recommendations following Exercise Taurus 2012.

12: Gartner IT glossary, available at

13: Tiakina Aotearoa Protect New Zealand, Expectation 22 – that the purchase of science is integrated across providers.

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