Merthyr Tydfil council has denied that it is failing to meet its EH statutory duties but has admitted that the service is at a “tipping point” on the “cusp of becoming unsustainable”.
A Welsh Audit Office report warned in December 2018 that Merthyr Tydfil’s EH service had reduced and that the council could not demonstrate that it was delivering all of its statutory EH duties.
Merthyr Tydfil’s audit committee met on 19 December last year and the minutes show that it rejected the idea that the authority was failing its duties but did highlight a number of areas of concern.
Using the CIEH Wales Best Practice Standards the committee found the authority was fully compliant in communicable disease control, pest control and private sector housing but that some service areas fell short.
Food hygiene inspections, for example, were not being carried out within 28 days of opening – which has already been flagged by the Food Standards Agency.
Health and safety interventions in businesses were found to be at a “minimum” level but the information being used to plan this work was “not fit for purpose”. This means that it has not been able to produce a health and safety service plan that meets the requirements set out in the HSE Local Authority Enforcement Code.
Concerns were raised over the reliance on the goodwill of staff to cover emergency and necessary out-of-hours work, and over-reliance on a small number of highly qualified and experienced individuals.
Staffing cuts are also affecting the delivery of the Air Quality Action Plan and the authority’s ability to deliver its Toilet Strategy, which it has to produce under the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017. Its dog warden service has been discontinued. And other strategic areas such as contaminated land and empty properties have not been reviewed “for a number of years”.
The council’s audit committee report meeting minutes authored by Alyn Owen, deputy chief executive, and Geraint Thomas, cabinet member for regeneration and public protection, warned "extreme caution" should be taken before any further cuts or changes to the service are made. They recommended an action plan to look at the risks highlighted.
They added: “Part of the problem is that there is a general lack of understanding about the range and importance of services we provide. EH services are holistic; there are numerous interdependencies between the component services being delivered.
“This provides depth and resilience, but as the numbers of officers decreases understanding these interdependencies is increasingly critical to effective decision making. Transference of functions, or ceasing a service, can have a range of unintended consequences and significantly undermine other service areas.”
The council was unavailable for comment.