The Audits and setting of national standards take place against a background of an estimated 4½ million people a year suffering from food poisoning.
The UK-wide standard covers the enforcement of food law in all 600,000 food establishments, and every type of food - from baby-food to ice-cream, from frozen sausages to the sauces you put on your plate. Every local authority in England could be audited in this rolling programme (separate arrangements apply in Scotland, and announcements concerning Wales and Northern Ireland will be made later). The Agency is working with local authorities to raise national standards of enforcement, share best practice and tackle any problems that hinder effective enforcement.
The local authorities being audited in this phase are:
The Agency chose ten local authorities to be audited between April and June to represent a cross-section of the different types of local authority, geographical location, and inspection and sampling levels.
Announcing the first audits Sir John Krebs, Food Standards Agency Chairman said:
"Local food law enforcers are the first line of defence for the public, ensuring the safety of our food. It is our job in the Agency, in partnership with local authorities, to set a national standard and to audit local authorities to make sure it is being met. These first audits set the ball rolling on a programme that will see every local authority in the UK subject to audit if their performance is not up to scratch. At last the public will be able to see how well they are being protected."
The audit will include an examination of the levels of inspection of food premises by the local authority, the arrangements they have in place to sample and analyse food, their management controls, the advice they give to food businesses and consumers and also how they deal with complaints.
Sir John Krebs added:
"Having such a close look at how local authorities operate will enable us to highlight and share best practice with other authorities, and also allow the Agency to address problem areas that might hinder effective enforcement. We have already, in partnership with local authorities, put in place a UK-wide standard on enforcement. It is flexible and allows allow innovation by local authorities, and variations to suit local needs and priorities, but we have to make sure the basics are in place. If we find they are not, an action plan will be drawn up with the local authority and published to remedy the problems."
The ten local authorities will be audited between April and June 2001. The Food Standards Agency has powers to monitor and audit local authorities under the Food Standards Act 1999.
The Local Authority Enforcement Framework Agreement was published and issued to local authorities on 29 September 2000. The Framework Agreement set a new national standard for enforcing food law with increased public accountability by:
In addition to the audit programme all local authorities are required to supply quarterly returns to the Agency on their enforcement activities. The Food Standards Agency has arranged a nationwide programme of seminars for local authority administrators who are responsible for these food enforcement returns.