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Red tape could put public health at risk

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The Local Government Association has warned that proposals to strip councils of powers to swiftly clean up contamination and infection put public health in jeopardy.

Councils are currently responsible for destroying contaminated articles, seizing potentially infected goods and making hazardous premises safe for public use.

The Health & Social Care Bill, which is going through parliament, suggests the courts should first decide a recommended course of action before local authorities carry out potentially life-saving work.

The Local Government Association will urge ministers to reconsider the proposed transfer of powers away from councils to volunteer magistrates. This extra layer of red tape could delay clean up operations and increase the risk to public health.

Hampered by bureaucracy

The death of Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006, saw Westminster City Council lead the remediation process to make 47 sites, including hotels, restaurants and aircraft contaminated with polonium -210 safe. Proposals going through parliament would require the council to ask permission on up to 47 separate occasions to respond.

David Rogers (Lib Dem), chair of the community wellbeing bard at the LGA said: “The clean up services that councils provide are being hampered by burgeoning bureaucracy and red tape. It seems illogical to remove the powers from councils when there is no evidence to suggest that local authorities have in anyway abused their authority or failed to act appropriately.

Graham Jukes, chief executive, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health described the move as "foolhardy".

“Local authorities have repeatedly demonstrated, at all levels, that they are effective in protecting the public health of their local communities. CIEH believes it essential that local councils are able to act directly to protect public health,” he said.

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