The FSA has warned it faces “extremely challenging” conditions over the next five years after the government’s spending review revealed the extent of cuts to its budget.
Chancellor George Osborne’s review cemented earlier fears from within the FSA that it faced funding cuts - with the publication of the review document on Wednesday (25 November) confirming the FSA budget would remain at £85.4m a year over the next four years.
In real terms, this meant the FSA’s front-line delivery and administration budget would fall by about £6m (or 7%) compared with its 2015-16 budget, the agency said, while additional cuts in local government funding - with the central grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government falling by 56% - could also affect how it operated.
“This cut requires us to make further savings over the next four years,” said a spokesman, who added that the “wider environment we work in will also remain extremely challenging, particularly as local authority funding is reduced and other government departments face similar pressures”.
The confirmation of a further squeeze on the FSA’s resources comes just two months after its chief operating officer Jason Feeney warned the much-vaunted National Food Crime Unit - launched in the wake of the Horsegate scandal - required a major cash from injection from government if it were to increase its capabilities.
CEO Catherine Brown has also suggested that ongoing budget reductions meant the FSA would likely “have to look at how we fund [the unit] in the future”.
Appeal for funding
A subsequent letter, sent to the Chancellor earlier this month by industry bodies the Food and Drink Federation and The Institute of Food Safety Integrity & Protection, also urged him to support the FSA, and warned the “regulatory system is under tremendous pressure as a result of increasing demands, such as the need to effectively address food fraud and continuing public sector cuts”.
In order to maintain the UK’s pre-eminent position in world food markets, protect consumers and support economic growth in the food industry, “an adequately funded, transparent regulatory system, led by a strong independent regulator is essential”, warned the letter, which was signed by food safety expert Prof Chris Elliot, Tifsip head Jenny Morris, FDF director general Ian Wright and Chartered Institute of Environmental Health CEO Graham Jukes.
Further budget cuts would “decrease the effectiveness and resilience of the regulatory system, reduce consumer confidence in its ability to protect their health and risk undermining trust in the food safety standards of the UK food industry”, it added.