The future of the beleaguered National Equine Database (NED) could be decided next month, as officials battle to launch the system to the public.
NED, a joint venture between DEFRA and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF), is an internet-based system designed to allow global access to breeding, competition and identification data for British horses.
NED was due to be launched to the public in 2005, but a series of delays set the date back to May 2007. More technical problems led to this target being missed (news, 15 March), and now NED officials hope the BEF will step in to complete and launch the project.
BEF head of equine development Jan Rogers is also responsible for marketing NED.
She told H&H: We presented to the BEF board in May and members were interested, but wanted to see a fully costed business plan, which we passed to them a fortnight ago. The BEF has always been behind NED. We hope the board comes to the appropriate decision.
A BEF spokesman confirmed to H&H that the business plan was being studied by an internal committee, and that a decision would be expected by 27 July.
DEFRA has funded NED to the tune of £885,000 so far, but officials remain patient with the project.
A spokesman told H&H: DEFRA shared in the decision to invite the BEF to take on the leadership role to complete the project. We are in discussions aimed at reaching a decision as soon as possible.
The spokesman was unable to confirm whether more funding would be available for NED, saying that the decision would be taken at ministerial level after the BEF had made its announcement.
Mrs Rogers admitted that it would be a worse case scenario if the BEF opted out of taking the lead on NED.
She reasoned: There are concerns over what the future of NED would be if the BEF moved away. The British Horse Database, which was around in the 1990s, failed and it would be very hard to make a case for yet another equine database if NED failed.
If the BEF rejects the proposal, NEDs present management, comprising DEFRA and industry officials, will be responsible for what happens next.
Although reluctant to pre-empt any decision of the BEF board, Mrs Rogers admitted that NED chief executive Nick Wallbridge had drawn up a new timeframe for implementation, with early 2008 as the projected launch date.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (28 June, ’07)