Headlines: June 21st, 2006

Councils are being urged to make use of a new tool that could help improve people’s health by giving them better access to healthy food. The system has been developed by one local authority and put through trials by a second and is being launched at the Trading Standards Institute’s annual conference.The ‘food access radar’ toolkit was developed by Staffordshire County Council working in partnership with the National Consumer Council and with the support of the Food Standards Agency. The idea is to use information that local councils already have to identify any areas where people have difficulty in getting hold of affordable and healthy food. It has now completed a period of successful trials with Trading Standards staff at Oxfordshire County Council, which was also involved in the initiative to develop and test a tool that could be used by a range of authorities to identify quickly and easily any communities where people’s health could be at risk because of poor access to healthy food.

Jillian Pitt, Senior Nutrition Advisor at the Consumer Council said that for some people buying food in local shops meant having less variety and choice, paying higher prices for lower quality produce and could mean it was harder to eat a healthy diet. The newly tested toolkit would put all local authorities in a position to identify problem areas and take action.

“We would like to encourage as many councils as possible to make use of this device to improve access to healthy food, for instance, by changing bus services and working with retailers and community groups,” she said.

Oxfordshire’s Principal Trading Standards Officer, Phil Owen, said the kit had saved staff the time taken in having to go out and about to do all the initial consultations. “It has saved Oxfordshire County Council time and money, helping us to prioritise and better use our resources. It has also assisted us with the delivery of Oxfordshire’s objectives for improving local communities. Any council looking to make local services better should definitely use it,” he added.

The NCC says the partnership work in promoting the food access radar toolkit is its first step in tackling the issue of communities that experience problems accessing healthy food. Local authorities can get a copy of the kit, complete with an easy-to-use CD ROM and step-by-step guide, by contacting Saba Zaidi, Core Services Officer at the NCC on 020 7881 3008 or by email at s.zaidi@ncc.org.uk.