Headlines: August 20th, 2003

Local authorities and professional groups are calling for a million pounds of government money to fund a range of measures to combat the crisis in recruitment of environmental health and trading standards officers. The Local Government Association is warning that without action Britain is facing a public health meltdown and more freedom for rogue traders.It points to recent research by the Employers’ Organisation for local government which shows that almost half of councils cannot recruit enough environmental health officers and just over a third are facing similar problems with trading standards staff. As a result, it says, inspections have fallen by ten per cent, putting public health and safety at risk.

Local government leaders have joined the bodies representing the two professions – the Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute for Public Health – to lobby Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott for a million pounds to help them pay for a series of initiatives. These would be designed to raise the profile of regulation work and to support training and placement schemes.

The Regulatory Services Action Plan also has the backing of the Improvement and Development Agency, the employers’ organisation and the Welsh LGA. Elements of the million-pound bid include 700,000 of match funding over three to five years for financial packages to assist students undertaking practical training and another hundred and fifty thousand pounds for the production of 70,000 free CD-ROMS promoting careers in public protection.

Councillor Ann Stribley, the LGA’s Public Protection Executive, said nearly a third of the trading standards workforce was aged 50 or over and since 1995 there had been a steady decline in the number of students applying for EHO degree courses. She said the pump-priming initiatives would have a significant impact but for them to succeed local councils needed to invest more in training and have better retention and recruitment strategies.