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The FSA Board recognised the extraordinary efforts of Local Authorities to help ensure food is safe and what it says it is during the COVID-19 pandemic

At its business committee meeting on Tuesday 8 December, the FSA Board discussed local authority performance in light of the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 has created for them in delivering their statutory food functions.

The Board considered two recent snapshot surveys carried out in August and October which shows a system under strain, though the Board was reassured to note that 90% of the 57 local authorities surveyed in the most recent survey reported that they were coping.

Emily Miles, Chief Executive has written to all local authority Chief Executives urging them to ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to deliver the high priority food law controls and activities, and that they continue to protect these resources. The FSA has adjusted its expectations of local authorities this year, recognising that food businesses categorised as lower risk could have their planned inspection delayed where local authority resources have been diverted to respond to the pandemic; and asking that local authorities continue with the high priority activities detailed in the FSA advice. While she said this could be tolerated for a few months more, she described the current situation as being ‘at the edge of the FSA’s risk appetite’ and emphasised that local authorities needed to meet these minimum obligations. Where LAs could not, she said that the FSA planned to follow up with them individually to see what else could be done to assist.

The Board endorsed the cross-Government approach to the resource challenges that are affecting local authorities and welcomed the fact that the FSA is working on this with other parts of Government, recognising the scale of the challenge and the consequences if not addressed.  It also agreed to inform Ministers that the current adjusted requirements of local authorities will be extended until June 2021, in the light of continued COVID pressures.

Heather Hancock, FSA Chair, said:  

“These snapshot survey results are a cause for concern, and we will be monitoring the situation very carefully over the coming months to see whether the numbers of local authorities who are struggling to meet our minimum requirements increases.

“The Board recognises how challenging the situation has been for local authorities, and the unprecedented impact of the situation on them. It appreciates their efforts, while being concerned about the strain the system is under.

“The Board agreed that the effects of COVID-19 have given renewed impetus to our strategic drive for regulatory reform, and agreed that regulators should aim to:

  • work with businesses to draw assurance from their methods to reduce risk, rather than assuming that in all cases assurance can only be provided by onsite inspection at establishment level and
  • to target scarce local authority resources where we believe that a premises-based inspection is the most effective way to mitigate risk, or where intelligence gathered requires a reactive local authority response

The executive agreed to update the Board on progress on broader regulatory reform in early 2021.