An in-depth exploration of delivery of official controls for and food and feed safety and standards

Last updated:
6 May 2014
This project supports the review of the delivery of official controls by gathering evidence and data to look in detail at the current delivery of these controls by local authorities and port health authorities and to support the evaluation of the current delivery model and the scope for making improvements
Study duration: September 2012 to April 2013
Project code: FS616021
Contractor: Quo Vadis Consulting Partners

Background

The Food Standards Agency is has reviewed how local authorities and port health authorities undertake 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 UK nations. 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 evaluated the effectiveness of the current delivery model and the outcomes will be used to consider the scope for making improvements. Further information on the review can be found at: www.food.gov.uk.

Research Approach

This project provided information on the delivery structures and arrangements that are in place within CAs in the UK for the purposes of:

  • establishing a baseline of current practices to identify and quantify the impact of changes arising from alternative delivery systems to be considered within the review of the delivery of official controls
  • understanding how these delivery arrangements are changing as a consequence of reductions in local authority budgets and changes to government priorities

The aim of this project was to enhance the FSA’s knowledge and understanding of the delivery of official controls through a set of case studies that set out the detail of operating models for official control delivery currently in place, providing data on resources and costs of activities within these systems.

This project :

  • developed and agreed a methodology for selecting a range of CAs to approach to participate in the study
  • developed and agreed a data collection toolkit for case study site visits
  • carried out and documented the case studies
  • collated and analysed the information gathered through the case study process
  • summarised and presented an analysis of the data collected to inform the assessment of the current system and the option appraisal

The project will also be used to cross-check and supplement the data collected in the survey of CAs in evidence research project FS616004.

Results

Each authority had unique characteristics, but a number of themes emerged from the authorities visited:

  • Collaboration and a whole system approach to food safety - the smaller unitary authorities seemed to work better than the two tier structure of county and district authorities, although officers seemed to make the arrangements work whatever the structure. The background and interests of the lead member/the portfolio holder had an important bearing on the level of interest in food in the upper levels of governance
  • Staffing - Trading standards/food standards and food hygiene were often merged to provide officers with more generic experience. . Food standards work had suffered greater cutbacks than food hygiene and the budget for ‘standards’ sampling work had declined rapidly because of budgetary and resource constraints
  • Innovation - Interviews revealed a history of innovative work,. for example: improving compliance for hygiene and intelligence-led imported food sampling for standards; ector specific projects mainly with ethnic minority caterers; breaking down the barriers to compliance for poorly compliant businesses
  • Some authorities applied innovation across the whole function.. A common message was that FSA funding to resource these projects was crucial to the furtherance of this work
  • The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme helps engage councillors in the importance of food safety. The scheme had helped to break down some of the barriers between the FSA and the local authority teams. The grants had been key to ensuring a timely and competent transition/implementation of the scheme
  • Income - few had significant income as a proportion of their budget. Overall, grants received represented the highest income generator followed by export certificates and business training receipts. A number of authorities pointed to the disincentive to generate income in their budgetary control systems, where income (e.g. through training) would be built into the budget baseline for subsequent years and the revenue allocation reduced recurrently to compensate
  • The FSA working in collaboration with local authorities –suggestions included a perceived role for the FSA in promoting consistency in terms of advice and guidance and filling the gap left by the demise of LACORS and its successor LGR

All the interviewees felt that there was little or no certainty given the economic outlook and the pressure on public sector finances. Budgetary constraints were regarded as the limiting factor in achieving Code of Practice (CoP) compliance and as resources got tighter, authorities would continue to take a risk based approach by focusing on poorer premises and using hazard spotting.