FSA News item, 21 March 2005
The Agency's Board has welcomed unreservedly the report from Baroness Brenda Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, published today, following her independent review of the Agency's performance since it was set up in April 2000. Baroness Dean has made 22 constructive recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Board.
Full report - The report of the independent review is available as a download in pdf format. Go to http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/deanreviewfinalreport.pdf
Terms of the review
Food Standards Agency response
Sent to Baroness Dean on 16 March 2005 by FSA chair, Sir John Krebs.
Thank you for your report on the above review and for presenting it to the Board and staff of the Food Standards Agency. I am grateful to you for conducting a truly independent and rigorous review in which you sought the views and perceptions of such an extensive range of our stakeholders – from colleagues in health and other government departments in Westminster and the devolved administrations of the UK , and from stakeholders in the consumer, enforcement and industry communities. We value the candour with which their comments were given.
Your overall assessment was that the great majority of stakeholders you spoke to believe the FSA has performed well in its first five years, in improving food safety, building public confidence, and creating a modern culture of openness. The Board was particularly pleased at the consistent messages from stakeholders about the capabilities and professional approach of the staff of the FSA.
The Food Standards Agency very much welcomes your report. You have made twenty-two constructive recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Board.
Some of your recommendations highlight areas where we are already taking action. Others we will be able to address relatively rapidly, whilst for a third group of recommendations, we will need to give further thought to the way in which we should address them.
Areas where we are already taking action
You recommended that we build and develop our relationship with the Department of Health in England (recommendations 1 and 14). We had already agreed in principle with Department of Health to review the concordat between the two departments. This review was however deferred pending publication of the recent White Paper Choosing Health: Making Healthy Choice Easier. The White Paper itself provides very welcome opportunities for closer joint working between the FSA and Department of Health.
You recommended we consider seconding staff to key stakeholders and arrange further secondments between our headquarters and our offices in the devolved countries (recommendations 13 and 15). From our own experiences to date, we agree that secondments can be very valuable in developing mutual understanding, provided reasonable and appropriate arrangements can be made to share costs. We currently have some eight staff on secondment to organisations including the National Consumer Council, EU institutions and other Government departments. We have also hosted several successful inward secondments from local authorities. We are seeking to do more. We have therefore recently sought "expressions of interest" from FSA staff in the range of secondment opportunities that are now opening up. These include secondments to stakeholders, to the EU and other national food agencies in the EU, between the FSA's offices in Aberdeen , Belfast , Cardiff and London , and with the MHS.
You recommended periodic opportunities for our Advisory Committees in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland to share experiences and ideas (recommendation 17). We are keen to build on the very constructive joint meetings of Advisory Committees we have held to date, most recently in November 2003. We will therefore convene a joint meeting of the Advisory Committees in 2005/06 and at least every two years thereafter.
You recommended we address the perception that measures to ensure the safety of meat are not given sufficient emphasis, and consider whether more resources are needed in this area (recommendation 21). In the light of your comments, we have now arranged to take papers on key issues relating to meat safety together at a single Board meeting later this year. This should make it easier for stakeholders to see the wide range of the FSA's work and achievements in this area.
Recommendations we can address relatively rapidly
You recommended that we consider nominating a single point of contact across all issues for key stakeholders (recommendation 8). We recognise the frustration stakeholders may feel when their interests span a range of the FSA's policy areas and no one official has all the answers they are looking for. However, we also recognise that our stakeholders appreciate the ability to speak directly to the policy experts in the FSA, rather than to liaison officers. We will look further at this but, in the meantime, where stakeholders let us know the breadth of their interests in advance of their meetings with officials, we will aim to involve policy experts in the relevant areas in a single meeting.
You recommended that we revisit the terms of reference of our Advisory Committees in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland (recommendation 16). We recognise that further work needs to be done. We will commence this review later this year.
You recommended we demonstrate more clearly the value we attach to having the widest possible overview of relevant scientific work, and increase the profile of advisory committees to emphasise the broad base of scientific evidence we take into account when making decisions (recommendation 9). We already have a wide range of expert opinion represented on the FSA's advisory committees. We are considering what further action we might take to improve our scientific governance, which might include for example: reviewing and embedding best practice in the use by these committees of co-opted members on their working groups; and inviting Chairs of our scientific advisory committees to address relevant Board meetings to communicate the nature of their independent advice.
You recommended we should involve stakeholders in assessing whether we have an appropriately broad evidence base for our policy decisions (recommendation 11). We will explore ways of improving on our current arrangements for sourcing and taking account of the broad range of relevant evidence. In the meantime, we will ensure that our scientific advisory committees always follow current best practice in consulting on their draft recommendations – whether such consultations are web-based or through broad stakeholder groups – except where urgent action is needed to protect consumers.
You recommended we routinely summarise the evidence base for our policy decisions and make it transparent to stakeholders (recommendation 12). We are considering a new framework for Board papers to more effectively communicate the evidence (including consultation responses) used in developing policy proposals.
You recommended that we address the perceptions of consumers on our policy decisions on GM food and organic food (recommendation 20). We agree that we should periodically revisit major policy areas to assess whether the evidence base has developed, and whether stakeholder expectations have changed. We will consider the need for a formalised cycle for revisiting major policy areas, whilst recognising the multiplicity of factors that might trigger a review.
You recommended we give greater emphasis to catering-related initiatives and involve stakeholders in developing policies in this area (recommendation 22). We recognise the challenges to effective delivery in this sector. New EU legislation will require food businesses to put food safety management procedures in place. We have taken advantage of devolution to develop a range of approaches in collaboration with the catering industry and to pilot different approaches in different parts of the UK . These different approaches reflect the diversity of business types. The innovative Safer Food, Better Business food safety management system has been developed in England and is aimed at small catering businesses that face the greatest challenges. It is backed by appropriate support mechanisms to aid small businesses, using a range of seconded experts including small caterers themselves. The development and piloting of this support and guidance material has involved collaboration with over 60 Local Authorities and approximately 1300 businesses. The FSA in Northern Ireland has refined an existing and well-regarded pack for caterers called Safe Catering, whilst the FSA in Scotland has worked with local authority and industry representatives to produce a pack called CookSafe. The Board discussed some of these issues at its open meeting on 10 March. Further roll-out activities have been planned.
Recommendations requiring further thought as to the way in which we should address them
You recommended that we consider rating consumer representative groups in accordance with the numbers and range of their membership and the extent to which they seek their members' or consumers' views (recommendation 2). We agree that the FSA needs to develop mechanisms for broadening and deepening the input from consumers to policy development.
You recommended that we more actively deliver openness and accessibility, focusing on SMEs, low-income families, and others who may currently find it difficult to engage with the Agency (recommendation 6). The FSA is developing its working relationships with ‘hard to hear' consumer groups following the interactive day with gateway organisations we held in March 2004; this commitment to dialogue is reinforced in our new strategic plan. We recognise that many food SMEs will not be members of trade associations, and that community-based consumer groups may not be members of umbrella organisations. Our experiences in the devolved countries suggest that engagement with both these stakeholder communities may be better achieved at the local or regional level. With this is mind, the FSA has decided to pilot the placing of a small number of staff in Government Offices for the Regions in England with as one of their aims the development of effective regional stakeholder networks. We will also develop other ways of ensuring we hear the voices of these stakeholders.
You recommended we seek mechanisms to improve the transparency of the Board's decision-making through allowing deeper discussions at open Board meetings (recommendation 7). At its retreat in November 2004, the Board reflected on the format that had evolved for our open meetings, and how we might deliver better and more transparent decisions through adopting a wider range of ways of working. In addition, the Board is reflecting on different ways in which it might engage with stakeholders.
We will also, as you recommended, do more to:
In summary, your recommendations provide us with a demanding agenda, but one which will make the organisation more fit to face the challenges that you and our stakeholders foresee. We are greatly encouraged by the widespread confidence that we can meet these future challenges.
With my thanks once again, on behalf of the Board and staff of the FSA, for conducting such a comprehensive, insightful and valuable independent review of our performance in our first five years.