Food Safety Conference

Concern over LA budget cuts raised

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Local authority funding cuts cause concern

Related tags Local authorities Food safety conference Food standards agency

Doubt about the ability of local authorities (LA) to maintain food safety during a time of increased government budget cuts has been raised.

Cuts to LA budgets had only just begun and would get increasingly tougher, warned Jenny Morris, chief policy advisor for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), which represents total inspectors.

“What the LAs are saying is that they are suffering a great burden of cuts than other parts of government,” ​Morris told delegates at the Food Manufacture Group’s food safety conference last week.

Reduced staffing

The number of environmental health officers, for instance, had reduced from 4,500 in 1999 to 3,600 in 2009, she said.

“I’m not saying that ​[the number] shouldn’t go down, but it should be focused on what we need … I have heard that the food industry is concerned by some of the skills of the ​[remaining] inspectors.”

The majority of the staff lost during the first round of budget cuts were very experienced – and so highly paid – people, Morris added.

Between 2011 and 2013, LA funding decreased from £50bn to £45bn and net expenditure rose from £50bn to £52bn and was expected to rise to nearly £60bn by 2020, she said.


Some local authorities had started to outsource their inspection staffing as a result of budget cuts, which had potentially good and bad impacts she added.  

While a private company would work to specified standards and targets for financial returns, they were unlikely to do more than they needed to, since this would eat into their profits.

Some 139 environmental health departments responded to a survey of local authorities in England conducted by the CIEH, which represented 43% of the total.

“When asked about how environmental health services are delivered, 82.6% said they were delivered in house, while 0.8% ​[two to three local authorities] were outsourced,” ​said Morris.​[In addition] 6.1% were integrated or shared [between different local authorities]; 10.6% had other/mixed arrangements.

What else the survey found

  • 37.4% of LAs said staff reduction had been around natural turnover
  • 4.4% had increased staff
  • 40% had no change in staff
  • 50% had seen staff reductions
  • 24% were planning more staff reductions in the future
  • 9.1% were planning staff increases in the future
  • 46.6% said they expected things to stay the same in the future

Meanwhile, John Barnes, head of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA's) local delivery division, called for the food industry to bridge the funding gap by working more closely with the FSA.

“We need to improve our intelligence capacity in terms of what we get from you and what we give back,” ​he said.

“I’m not here proposing that we should be reducing resources, but I’m saying that even if we had the same resources or more, the outcome would be the same.”

The food safety conference, Safe and legal food in a changing world, was sponsored by ACO Building Drainage, Activate Lubricants, AON, Detectamet, PFP Packaging Solutions, the Food Advanced Training Partnership and the Institute of Food Research.

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