FIFE COUNCIL has said it is “taking appropriate action” after a recent audit showed a major backlog in the number of food premises inspections.

Food Standards Scotland carried out checks in August last year revealed a total of 2,283 out of 4,325 food places were waiting to be checked out while another 272 were unrated as they had not yet been inspected.

From these, there were 60 in the ‘High risk’ A and B category. A further 114 were in category C, 766 in category D and 1,343 category E.

The audit report said it focused on the Fife Council’s arrangements for meeting certain operational criteria, particularly on staffing-related issues, registration and approval of food business operators, enforcement actions, interventions, procedures for carrying out official controls and transparency about their enforcement activities.

It found that the environmental health resources – including staff – for conducting official controls was “insufficient” to achieve the requirements of the Food Law Code of Practice (Scotland) 2015.

The report also said that budget information (for food activities) produced by the authority appeared to show a reducing allocation of finance to the service, falling steadily from £635,000 in 2014/15 to just under £500,000 in 2018/19 – which equated to an approximate 21 per cent reduction.

“Discussions took place on the numbers of Full-Time Equivalent staff (FTEs) and the vacant posts,” it stated.

“It was established that the service had been repeatedly required to reduce the number of posts available.

“Based on the information provided prior to the audit, regarding the numbers of businesses in the local authority’s intervention programme and the number of staff that the local authority has in post, as well as discussions and reviews of documentation and records, the capacity to deliver the intervention programme was considered unsatisfactory at the time of audit.”

The audit report also said that officers were “generally clear” on the authority’s procedure for conducting inspections and adhered to the authority’s enforcement policy and inspection procedures. 

“The procedures and documentation provided for inspections, although out of date, were generally being appropriately and consistently followed and completed,” it added. 

“The authority is very active in sampling and has a sampling policy and programme in place. Sample results which highlighted problems were suitably addressed.”

Keith Winter, Fife Council executive director, economy and environment, said efforts were ongoing to recruit more staff.

“Fife Council fully recognises the importance of effective food safety and hygiene enforcement,” he said.

“We are taking appropriate action following the recent report, which includes filling current vacant posts as circumstances constantly change and this audit reflects the position at a point in time and the pressures in local government given ongoing budgetary pressures and the impact on services over a period of time.

“We have recently recruited a senior manager following the retirement of the previous postholder, who is set to start with us shortly. 

“The council is set to re-advertise for, and recruit, employees in this area to maintain a suitable workforce to ensure that quality services continue to be delivered.”