CONCERN has been raised over figures that reveal that more than half of the Environmental Health Officer posts in Fife Council are currently vacant.

Councillor Jonny Tepp, who is Fife Council Liberal Democrat Group Leader, has expressed his alarm after finding out that nine of the fifteen positions across the organisation are currently not filled.

This includes two of the three posts in the Public Protection Team, half of the ten posts in the Food and Workplace Safety Team and both of the two posts in the Private Housing Team.

Cllr Tepp said the volume of vacancies has meant that resources were being prioritised on the areas of highest risk, with some proactive inspections not being carried out.

The level of EHO input into planning consultations has been scaled back, and positions will be filled with Technical officers as a short-term measure.

“Fife is not alone, and other councils across Scotland are also facing a shortage of EHOs," he said. "However the particularly high level of vacancies in EHO positions in Fife is a real cause for concern. It is clearly having an impact on vital services which protect the public.

“I will continue to press Fife Council to ensure that its obligations are being met and that work is underway to recruit more staff. The Scottish Government also needs to explain why it has allowed the situation to deteriorate across the country, and what it is going to do to turn things around.”

Fife Council's Head of protective services, Nigel Kerr, acknowledged the concerns around the shortage of environmental health officers.

“Environmental health officers are a key component of the core public health workforce," he said.

"The outcome of the Scottish Government Public Health Reform Specialist Public Health Workforce Commission considers that the role of Environmental Health services should be strengthened to increase its influence across all local government functions and enable it to take on a leadership role in relation to local government’s contribution to health protection and the wider environment.

“The Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland and the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland recognise this challenge and have established a workforce strategy group which has set short, medium and long term recommendations to protect the existing workforce and create new environmental health professionals for the future.

"Ongoing targeted recruitment drives continue to be the main option to attract qualified EHO’s to Fife in the short term. "In the medium to longer term the “Grow Our Own” model will provide a route for both young people and options for those wishing to re-train into the environmental health profession.

“The council will continue to support the University of the West of Scotland training for students taking the BSc in Environmental Health. We will also use opportunities for other technical staff training through modern apprenticeships and Workforce Youth Investment funding."