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One in seven food safety positions are vacant in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Thursday, 25 January 2024, By Kerry Taylor-Smith
One in seven food safety positions are vacant in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while 25% remain unfilled in Scotland, according to UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) research into food control authorities' ongoing staffing issues.
Food safety allocated posts supported by local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have decreased by almost 14% since 2011/12, and just over 25% in Scotland compared to 2016/17. Additionally, food standards officer allocated posts dropped 45.1% between 2011/12 and 2021/22 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Karen McCloskey, Head of Delivery Standards, FSA said, “Local authority front line staff are vital in our efforts to ensure that food is safe and [is] what it says. Our latest research confirms the ongoing challenges in local authority recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff to deliver official feed and food controls.”
A 2020 survey revealed trading standards officer staffing levels had also dropped between 30 and 50% between 2008/09 and 2018/19. Over half of UK local authorities believe they lack adequate resources to deliver food controls, whilst the ageing workforce was a threat to future professional capacity.
Recruitment is affected by a lack of awareness about food control careers among the workforce and graduates, as well as a complicated qualification system with multiple pathways, according to an FSA-commissioned Ipsos UK survey. Additionally, recruitment during the relevant education pathways is restricted by resource constraints leading to insufficient training and a mismatch between pay and workload expectations.
Retention issues include a lack of career progression opportunities, increased workloads, the burden of continued professional development and early retirement among experienced staff. The FSA Competency Framework, which details what officers’ qualifications enable them to do and what roles they can apply for, was found to be difficult to understand.
McCloskey said: “The problem is complex: from challenges with funding to an insufficient number of students entering the profession. We will be reviewing requirements around suitable qualifications and our competency framework to make sure that they are as easy to use as possible without watering down the standards required. We will also be refreshing our learning and development offer for Local Authorities to make sure that we are providing training that is fit for purpose and helps improve officer competency.”
The FSA will work with key stakeholders to evaluate the findings. “Whilst the FSA cannot fix this alone, we do have a role to play in highlighting these issues and collaborating across government and with stakeholders to ensure there is a sustainable pipeline of competent, authorised food and feed officers to continue to carry out this important work,” added McCloskey.
CIEH’s last Workforce Survey “identified a lack of resources to employ people in Environmental Health (EH) teams which also meant a lack of time and resources to train up graduates who were new in post,” said Jon Buttolph, Executive Director of Professional Standards at CIEH.
“CIEH has developed a new pathway to registration as an EHP and relaunched the student membership grade including benefits like a mentoring scheme, directory of student training opportunities, new to the profession webinars etc. We are also continuing to promote EH as a career, and the Board of Trustees has identified the sustainability of the EH profession as a key priority for 2024 (and onwards).”
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