Last April, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) undertook an audit of Birmingham City Council. You can find it on-line here.
The FSA undertook this audit “due to ongoing concerns arising from the Authority’s past and present submissions of key enforcement data to the Agency via the Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS). These issues included concerns around the number of unrated establishments submitted and the percentage of overdue higher risk category “A” inspections”.
In essence, Birmingham’s Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) were found to be professional, knowledgeable and experienced people, but — and it’s a big BUT — are working under huge pressures.
For a start, there aren’t enough of them — 11.5 FTE people for a city of 1.1M people, at the time of audit approximately 7607 registered food businesses.
And those 11.5 FTE are actually proportions of 26 officers’ time who are undertaking ‘wider environmental health responsibilities’.
There’s a high churn rate in our food sector, too. Plus appeals, revisits and visiting the large number of new food establishments (Nick Lowe, Environmental Services Team Leader told me there were ~500 a year). No surprise then that 11.5 FTE EHOs are over-stretched.
That is a risk to consumers, i.e. us all.
This paragraph (3.1.6 on page 10) sums the situation up for Birmingham City Council (“the Authority”) and its Environmental Services (‘the Service”):
“Given [the] wide range of demands on the Service and the limited information provided in the latest Enforcement Plan, auditors were unable to confidently establish whether the resources currently provided to the Service were sufficient to meet all the Authority’s statutory duties, or what the impact and implications of any shortfall would be, including potential impacts on consumer protection and reputational risk to the Authority.”
note: Catherine Brown, the Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency is giving a talk at our Annual Meeting on 4th November, with Mark Rogers chairing the Q&A afterwards. Registration is via eventbrite here.
See also our report: An update on food crime since the Elliott Review published in May 2015, based on Professor Chris Elliott and Nick Lowe’s briefing to our Board.