Brutal budget cuts have left many local authorities so under-resourced they are no longer able to carry out the necessary checks on food businesses to keep consumers safe.
That is the stark assessment from the Food Standards Agency, which warns of a “picture of growing concern” in a new paper published yesterday.
“At a local level there are a good number of authorities which are struggling to undertake interventions of food businesses at the required frequencies,” FSA’s Wales director Nina Purcell warned in the paper to the FSA board.
“More generally, the number of food businesses and customer complaints continue to rise, while local authority staff resources, intervention and sampling levels continue to fall. These trends, along with more detailed knowledge we have from our liaison with and audits of local authorities, highlight that many are not able to deliver a food service as set out in statutory Food Law Code of Practice. We are also acutely aware that local authority resources, particularly in England, will face further significant reductions over the next few years.”
Cuts to local authority budgets and their impact on food safety checks have been flagged up by the FSA before, but Purcell’s latest paper marks the strongest warning from the agency to date.
The paper, which will be discussed by the FSA board on 28 January, also revealed that the number of food hygiene interventions by local authorities fell by 6.8% between 2010/11 and 2014/15, while professional staffing resources fell by 17% during the same period.
Food crime and safety expert Professor Chris Elliott said the FSA was now expressing concerns he had been highlighting for years. “I’m concerned we are going from having the world’s best food safety regime to something that no longer protects the UK consumer.”