UK – In a bid to address the ongoing staffing challenges faced by UK food control authorities, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has commissioned research unmasking recruitment and retention issues within the sector.

The FSA’s most recent annual report highlighted a significant decline in local authority staffing across various functions, signaling a potential threat to food safety and standards enforcement.

The report revealed a nearly 14 percent reduction in food safety allocated posts supported by local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland since 2011–2012, with 13.7 percent of positions remaining vacant.

In Scotland, the shortage is even more pronounced, with a 25 percent drop in occupied food law posts compared to 2016–2017.

The number of food standards officer allocated posts also experienced a sharp decline of 45.1 percent between 2011–2012 and 2021–2022 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

To gain insights into the barriers and potential solutions for recruitment and retention, the FSA commissioned Ipsos UK to conduct research across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The research involved online focus groups and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, including current and former local authority officers, education providers, professional bodies, and apprentices.

Participants identified multiple challenges contributing to recruitment difficulties, including a lack of awareness about food control careers, complex qualification systems, financial constraints, and workload barriers to relevant courses.

Retention issues were also highlighted, such as limited career progression opportunities, increased workloads, challenges associated with professional development, and the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU and the COVID-19 pandemic on the nature of the role.

The FSA Competency Framework, outlining qualifications and roles, was deemed challenging to use and understand, adding to the complexities faced by officers.

To address these challenges, the research suggests promoting food control careers among local authorities, schools, and universities, fostering collaboration across FSA, government departments, and education providers, and simplifying qualification requirements.

The FSA’s next steps involve working with key stakeholders to assess findings and recommendations, identifying actionable items, and designing projects to tackle these issues.

Additionally, the agency aims to bring together stakeholders to encourage collaborative efforts to address challenges beyond its purview.

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