(

homeThursday 23rd November 2017

Food businesses face 'unfair competition' under FHRS

Stuart Spear07/09/2017 - 11:16

| comments Comments (0) |
Food operators want the highest score possible
Food operators want the highest score possible

Food businesses are being disadvantaged as English councils apply the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme inconsistently and fail to apply new FSA standards, according to new findings.

A study carried out by Chartered EHP Richard Short into how councils are applying re-inspection rules has revealed the majority of councils are failing to use the new FSA brand standard published in June while other councils are misapplying the rules.

The research carried out in August reveals out of 73 councils investigated 52 are failing to offer food businesses the opportunity to pay for a re-inspection in line with new guidelines.

Also, out of the 21 councils offering charging, four have maintained a three-month standstill period, the time during which a food business is unable to request re-inspection after the initial FHRS assessment.

A major change under the new brand standard is that if a food business is willing to pay a re-inspection fee the standstill period is no longer required and the local authority must simply carry out a re-inspection within three months of the request.

Fees charged by different local authorities range from around £90 to £250 for a re-inspection.

‘The questions this raises is why are so few local authorities not taking up the revised standard given its potential to generate revenues and why are councils applying the three-month standstill as per the old brand standard but charging as per the new brand standard?’ Said Mr Short.

The concern raised by Mr Short is that if councils are inconsistent in their application of the FSA brand standard then it will put businesses at a competitive disadvantage if they are in a borough applying the old rules.

‘A low score given on a bad day can be rescored quickly once the issues have been resolved in one borough but across the road in another borough a food business may have to wait up to six-months to have its score adjusted,’ points out Mr Short.

‘This competitive advantage is exacerbated by the FSA and some local authorities encouraging consumers to check the hygiene scores before they dine out adding a punitive element to the scheme that was never originally intended.’

Mr Short added that while the new rules have only been in place for three months local authorities have in reality had plenty of time to adopt them given the consultation period.

Defending local authorities, Richard Parker-Harding, head of environmental health at Rother and Wealden Councils, told EHN: ‘The reason why this authority has not introduced charging is that we operate according to our constitution following democratic and transparent procedures. The council's fees and charges for next year are set by cabinet in December each year, which means the report setting out the fees and charges is written in early November.’ 

He added: ‘In my view, this problem was created by the FSA introducing a change in the brand standard without adequate notice.’

Other changes relating to re-inspection introduced under the new brand standard include a previous restriction on food businesses only being allowed one re-inspection being lifted when fees are paid. The new brand places no limit on the number of re-inspections that can be requested.

The new brand also attempts to address any inspection bias within a local authority by encouraging EHOs to establish a reciprocal arrangement with a neighbouring authority to consider each other’s appeals.  

Commenting on the findings CIEH head of policy Tony Lewis said: ‘These findings are worrying and seem to portray some significant inconsistencies in the operation of FHRS across England which are hugely frustrating for business. In part, this is due to the voluntary nature of FHRS in England but, I also suspect, it may also be indicative of the squeeze on resources.’

The most recent FSA annual report (2015-2016) reveals that in England there are only three full time EHPs for every 1,000 food businesses, and that there are 2,164 full time equivalent staff, a fall of 6 per cent on the previous year. A third of EHPs have left local government since 2010.

An FSA spokesperson said: 'The latest brand standard is the one that local authorities have signed up to and within that it is acknowledged that local authorities have separate powers to charge for re-inspection, but it is their decision whether to use the power.'

Northern Ireland and Wales have mandatory FHRS schemes in place and so operate to different guidelines. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EHN Jobs

CIEHMember_252x70

Subscribe eNewsletter

E