CIEH calls on Chancellor to boost number of Environmental Health apprentices

26 February 2021, Heidi Douglas-Osborn

Ahead of the Budget on 3 March 2021, CIEH has written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, calling for the introduction of an £18m ring fenced fund for environmental health apprentices.

This would allow each local authority in England to train at least one apprentice over the four year programme, thus boosting the numbers of qualified and experienced environmental health practitioners available for work within local authorities.

Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) have been classed as key workers from the beginning of the pandemic due to the vital role they have played in ensuring businesses comply with safety and Coronavirus Regulations as well as in supporting communities in a variety of ways. However, even before the pandemic, there were serious shortages of qualified and experienced environmental health practitioners, leading to recruitment delays and difficulties for local authorities.

Early data from CIEH’s flagship Workforce Survey reveals that whilst the number of apprentices has increased between 2019/20 and 2020/21, the overall numbers remain very low. Just 40 local authorities took on a total of 55 apprentices in 2020/21, whilst 101 local authorities told us that they took on no apprentices in environmental health at all in either 2019/20 or 2020/21 – 68% of the total sample. Not having any budget (69%) and not having capacity to mentor the trainees (55%) were the primary reasons given for not taking anyone on.

There are also difficulties in recruitment of fully qualified and experienced EHPs. From provisional findings of the Workforce Survey, we estimate that there are around 1.2 environmental health posts per local authority going unfilled for 6 months or more due to difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced practitioners. Given that there are only around 10 fully qualified Full Time Equivalent EHPs employed by the average LA in England, these numbers are concerning.

Government’s flagship apprenticeship programme would be a great vehicle to boost numbers of environmental health practitioners, local authority resources as well as supporting young people in training for their future career.

Dr Phil James, Chief Executive of CIEH, said:

“Initial results from our workforce survey suggest that relatively few local authorities are taking on environmental health apprentices, citing budget constraints and lack of capacity to mentor as the most common reasons.

At the same time we know that local authorities are also struggling to recruit enough environmental health practitioners, putting strain on local authorities as the pandemic continues. I know that there is a tremendous interest in training the next generation but funding for placements is the key hurdle.

This profession has played a key role during the current pandemic and big backlogs of work await many teams in the coming year.

That’s why we have written to the Chancellor, calling for a ring-fenced Government fund of £18m to enable each local authority in England to recruit at least one apprentice in environmental health for the duration of the four year placement.

This would significantly boost numbers of practitioners available to protect public health and put this vital profession on a more stable footing. This funding would also be a vital lifeline for many young people who have lost their jobs or have struggled financially during the pandemic.”

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