Recent research from the Employers' Organisation for local government has found that nearly half of local authorities can't recruit enough environmental health officers and 34% are facing problems recruiting trading standards officers. As a result inspection rates have already fallen by 10%, putting public health and safety at risk.
Ann Stribley, chair of the LGA's Public Protection Executive, said: `Environmental health and trading standards officers run health, safety and security checks on a massive range of public premises and services. Working behind the scenes, they protect not only the general public but also 12 million employees from a huge range of potential problems. These range from combating the spread of e-coli food poisoning in restaurants and supermarkets, to ensuring the safety of public venues such as pubs and nightclubs and cracking down on the counterfeiting and scams which seed the 'Rip-Off Britain' culture and undermine community wellbeing. But the future success of these services is in the balance.
`The significant fall in inspection rates puts all of us at risk and comes with no end in sight. Nearly a third of the trading standards workforce is aged over 50 and, whilst there are some green shoots of recovery, since 1995 there has been a 76% reduction in the number of students applying for EHO degree courses.
`Although much of the quality of our every-day life depends on these vital professions, they suffer from a low profile both amongst the public and within local authorities. I hope that Mr Prescott and his colleagues will work with the LGA and our partners to help us promote this field of work and put in place the training and support that's so urgently needed.
`We believe that the national 'pump-priming' initiatives we've drawn up with our partners1 to support practical training and work placements' will have a significant impact on this problem but for them to be successful local councils must invest more in development and training and have better retention and recruitment strategies'.
Ms Stribley concluded: `We understand that local authorities, faced with demands from high-spending service areas, such as education and social services, are often under pressure to divert money away from the much- needed training places that graduates rely on, and we intend to work with them to highlight the importance of training and development to secure a brighter future for these vital professions.'
1)The Regulatory Services Action Plan is supported by the following local government organisations: the LGA; the Welsh LGA; the Employers' Organisation for local government; Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services; and the Improvement and Development Agency. It is also supported by the two regulatory professional bodies: the Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.
2)The LGA and its partners hope to use the £1m they are bidding for from ODPM for a range of initiatives including:
School Placement Scheme Funding for 1/2 week work placements at local councils to allow cover to be arranged for an off icer tasked with supervising placement students. Target group - Year 10 pupils.
Practical Training Match-funding Financial packages to assist students within local authorities.Target group - unqualified EH and TS students.
CD-ROM Production of 70,000 free CD-ROM promoting careers in Public Protection. These will include multi-media materials, i.e. video footage and practitioner interviews, and interactive functions. Target age group of 12-18 year olds in full-time education and training.(This could be the first in a series of CD-ROMs promoting careers in occupational areas where local government is experiencing severe recruitment and retention difficulties. Others in the series could include building control, planning, social care, and occupational therapists.)
Public Protection web page Creation of a single web-based careers information portal linking all public protection services.