Research with consumers and staff delivering official controls

Last updated:
15 July 2014
The aim of the research was to explore views and concerns about the current system of official controls and potential changes in the future. This was carried out across two strands – research with consumers, and an online forum with local authority staff who deliver official controls.
Study duration: September 2012 to July 2013
Project code: FS616002
Contractor: TNS BMRB

Background

The FSA is reviewing how local authorities and port health authorities carry out activities to monitor and secure business compliance with food and feed law. These activities are collectively known as ‘official controls’.

Official controls for food and feed are currently delivered through a variety of means and these delivery responsibilities vary across the four countries of the UK. The FSA needs to be assured that the delivery structure for these controls throughout the UK is appropriate and that competent authorities (CAs) are effectively identifying and addressing food business operator non-compliance in a manner that is proportionate to risk and in accordance with defined standards of delivery.

The review will evaluate how the effectiveness of the current delivery model. The outcomes will be used to consider the scope for making improvements. Further information on the review can be found on: OCR Review.

Research Approach

The research with local authority staff was conducted via an online forum, which was open for discussions across three waves, and sought to:

  • explore how local authority staff see the role of the FSA and local authorities in delivering official controls, and how the FSA should work with local authorities when issues arise
  • understand their views and concerns about the current system and priorities for the delivery of official controls
  • provide practical, current professional knowledge and expertise to inform decision making and assist in developing workable options to improve the delivery of official controls
  • measure reactions to potential changes to provide an understanding of the practical implications of change, including any barriers to change
  • explore whether the outputs of the review are seen as a positive direction for official controls delivery
  • inform discussions at the consumer forum sessions

The consumer research was conducted across three waves via six online forums in different UK locations , and sought to:

  • explore how consumers see the role of the FSA and local authorities in delivery of official controls, and how the FSA should work with local authorities when issues arise
  • understand the expectations, needs and interest of consumers in relation to official control delivery and food business compliance
  • explore views and concerns about the current system and understand consumer priorities for the delivery of official controls
  • measure reactions to potential changes to provide an understanding of the impact on consumers in terms of their trust in the system, consumer behaviour, and industry and regulator practice

Results

Local authority staff described wide-ranging approaches to the delivery of official controls. Different ways of working were primarily related to how resources had been (re)allocated in the context of increasing budget pressures facing local authorities. This resulted in different approaches to minimising inputs and maximising the efficiency of work carried out, and working with partner organisations to share work or knowledge.

Variations in delivering official controls were also linked to the different contexts in which Environmental Health (, Trading Standards and Port Health departments operated. A more standardised approach to delivery and ways of working was identified in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in compared to English authorities, whose experience and perceptions were more variable; particularly, amongst two-tier authorities.

Participants’ views and concerns about the current system focused on four broad areas: barriers to delivery; protecting the role of food safety within local authorities; monitoring delivery of official controls; and local authority relationships with the FSA.

Overall, consumers have limited engagement and awareness of the delivery of official controls. Once learning more about the current system of delivery controls, they recognised the complexities of official controls and the need for local authorities to make difficult decisions around resource allocation. However, at the same time consumers have unrealistic expectations regarding risk and assume that their safety is guaranteed by the current official controls in place. The implication for the FSA is that they have a fundamental role in providing accountability and oversight through both overseeing local authority delivery of official controls and by protecting consumers interest and values.