Announcing the publication of new guidance for local authorities setting out good practice in pest management, CIEH director of technical policy Ian Foulkes said: 'Pest management used to be regarded by local authorities as a key element of their nuisance and disease control function designed to safeguard the health of communities. Nowadays, however, it appears to have lost out in the competition for scarce resources and slipped down the list of priorities, with potentially serious implications for public health.'
. 88% of local authorities charge for some or all of their pest management services.
. 34% of local authorities do not have a structured training programme for pest management staff and 53% do not operate a continuous professional development programme.
. 22% of local authorities contract out some or all of their pest management operations to commercial companies.
. Performance monitoring is patchy, whether services are provided direct by local authorities or by contracted private pest controllers.
Mr Foulkes continued: 'The results of the survey give us major causes for concern. Management of pests is vital to the well-being of communities and local authorities must accord it appropriate priority as part of their role in protecting public health.
'The CIEH believes that the management of rats, mice and other disease-carrying pests is an essential service that should be provided by local authorities free of charge and not regarded as an income-generating activity. Those people who are more likely to have pest problems - disadvantaged members of the community - can least afford to pay to have them dealt with, so that necessary treatment may not be carried out.
'Lack of investment in staff training and development will compromise the ability of local authority environmental health departments to provide a quality pest management service in the future. Staff need to be made to feel valued and motivated, and service performance should be regularly monitored to ensure that high standards are maintained.
'Pest problems are often indicators of wider environmental health problems, and contracting out services to private pest controllers makes it more difficult for local authorities to implement co-ordinated solutions. It also means that services are driven by financial considerations rather than the protection of public health.
'We urge local authorities to recognise their public health responsibilities in this area before it is too late.'
1) The survey was conducted by the national pest advisory panel of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in 2003. Questionnaires were sent to all local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 271 of the 402 local authorities responded, giving a response rate of 67%. The full survey report is available here.
2) The Role of Pest Management in Environmental Health: A Guidance Document for Local Authorities will be distributed to every local authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A summary of the document is available here.