Environmental health (EH) services have been “cut to the bone”, putting the public at risk, according to public services union Unison.
It is calling for the government to end austerity measures and give local authorities proper funding.
The public services union conducted two surveys looking into cuts to EH services, as well as canvassing members on their experiences of austerity.
It found that the cuts have caused a shift towards “reactive enforcement work” in place of the “proactive programmed work” which would have allowed officers to spot potential problems before the need for an enforcement visit or action.
While a deeper analysis from Unison is expected shortly, CIEH and the Local Government Association (LGA) are not surprised by the findings and support Unison’s recommendations.
CIEH spokesperson Ross Matthewman said: “We recognise the need for the profession to modernise, and believe that it has been doing its best to innovate and prioritise under very difficult economic circumstances.”
He said the CIEH had tried to take a “pragmatic and constructive” approach to cuts. However, he added: “There is now mounting evidence that decisions taken by central government to significantly reduce local authority budgets over the last few years are having an unmistakably negative impact on EH resources across the country.”
The CIEH’s own workplace survey in 2015 showed significant cuts were already happening. Some 55% of EH managers with in-house service delivery said the impact of the cuts on staffing was “considerable”.
A freedom of information request from the Residential Landlord Association (RLA) in February of this year also found that local authorities in England have cut their housing enforcement budgets by 25% in less than 10 years.
An LGA spokesperson said: “This report highlights many concerns previously raised by councils and the LGA about the impact of austerity on vital local regulatory services over the past decade.
“Environmental health is taken extremely seriously by local authorities, but it is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain the service as a result of councils losing 60p out of every £1 they used to receive from government to spend on services.
“Councils are targeting their resources as efficiently as possible but significant budget pressures mean money is increasingly having to be diverted in order to plug growing funding gaps for key services, such as social care and homelessness services. This leaves councils unable to support important aspects of regulatory work, such as training for businesses and proactive visits.
“With local government facing a funding gap of £8 billion by 2025, the 2019 Spending Review will be make or break for vital local government services, including environmental health. With the right funding and powers, councils can continue to protect the public, reduce demand for services and save money for the taxpayer.”