Across the UK in 2006, the FSA introduced Remedial Action Notices (RANs) into domestic legislation that gives effect to EU food hygiene regulations. RANs may be used to address breaches of EU hygiene regulations, or where inspection under the hygiene regulations is being hampered. At the time RANs could only be served to premises approved under EC Regulation 853/2004. In 2012, amendments to the domestic hygiene legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland extended the scope of RANs into premises that are registered under Regulation 852/2004: premises that do not require approval. That extension was principally motivated by the notion that RANs could help address a gap in enforcement powers, as they could apply to circumstances where other types of notices, such as Hygiene Improvement Notices (HINs) and Hygiene Emergency Improvement Notices (HEPNs) would not be appropriate. This study has reviewed the implementation of that extension, over the period 2012-2015.
An overview of the local authority enforcement data revealed significant variations with regard to whether local authorities in the devolved nations had actually used RANs or not in registered premises, since their introduction in 2012. This contrast within the devolved nations has created conditions for comparing users and non-users in a controlled manner.
Accordingly, the research has explored various hypotheses on why and under which circumstances local authorities would use or not use RANs. It has also aimed at providing rich and nuanced evidence on how RANs have been used. In that process, the team aimed to understand how issues that were dealt with using RANs in some local authorities were dealt with otherwise in other local authorities. Besides, while firm quantitative evidence could not be gathered, the study tried to gather other elements indicating how effective RANs might have been. This included the number of RANs in the sample that had been breached or challenged in court, and their perceived effectiveness, relying for that matter on the views of officers. While doing so, it also gathered quotes on the reasons why officers thought RANs were effective, or, conversely, why other options than RANs might be also effective.
The project began with a review of the LAEMS data for local authorities located in the devolved nations. This review intended to explore, among other issues, the distribution of RANs across local authorities. This was then relied on to select cases for a more in-depth qualitative inquiry into regulatory decisions by officers. Both local authorities which had been serving RANs since the spring of 2012 and local authorities which had served none or very few were approached. Within each sub-group, selection was a function of two sets of parameters: the first set of parameters corresponded to the history of enforcement practices at the local authority. There local authorities were distinguished in terms of what the data suggested was their ‘enforcement style’. The second set of parameters corresponded to the general profile of the local authority in terms or relative urbanness/ruralness. The aim was to approach local authorities that would present both rural, mixed, and urban profiles.
The final sample includes 2 local authorities situated in Northern Ireland, 3 in Wales, and 4 in Scotland. Two additional local authorities located in England were also visited. Those were selected based on similarities with some local authorities located in the devolved nations that had served no RANs or very few.
Within each local authority the research team reviewed and discussed with staff a limited number of cases of non-approved food business operators, some of which had received a RAN and some of which had not received any.
Besides analysis of food business operator and local authority cases, the study undertook also controlled comparative studies across food business operator cases and across local authorities. Those controlled comparisons provide greater confidence in findings in spite of the small size of the sample of local authoritiesvisited and RANs examined.
The use of RANs has varied across LAs. Among other things, this reflects a learning process about RANs. Officers have not learnt to use this new tool at a similar pace across all LAs. This reflects also different attitudes towards RANs and enforcement notices more generally. The study found that the organisational culture in the LA’s food team was a key determinant of RAN use or non-use. That culture acted as a filter shaping the LA’s ‘enforcement style’. It either contributed to RAN use or discouraged it.
Since their introduction to address non-compliance in registered businesses, RANs have been served for a number of reasons, and chiefly cleanliness, cross contamination and equipment issues. The vast majority of RANs reviewed for this study appeared consistent with official guidance and training, while a minority of them seemed inconsistent with guidance and training.
Interviews documented lingering uncertainty among officers on the boundaries of RANs, and the circumstances when they would be appropriate. More reluctant and less confident officers appeared to restrict their use of RANs to cross-contamination issues resulting from the dual use of equipment.
RANs served to registered businesses since 2012 appear to have been targeted at problematic, high risk businesses, rather than served to any business. Decisions to serve RANs were often tied with poor confidence in management.
Ascertaining the impact of RANs was a complicated endeavour. This was partly due to sample size. This was also a consequence of the craft-like nature of enforcement work: when officers enforce problems on the ground they adjust to contexts, and might adopt different strategies involving different tools to resolve apparently similar issues. This was documented in this study by comparing similar issues in pairs, where in one case the problem was resolved with a RAN and in another it was resolved without. As a result, it has been particularly difficult to produce generalizations about RANs.
Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that RANs have been effective. Officers considered that RANs ‘work’ because they are immediate, they push FBOs towards compliance, they do not alienate FBOs, and they are giving officers the means to resolve issues they might not have been able to or they might have cared to resolve before.