Report warns of ‘risk to public health’ due to a shortage of public protection officers
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Short staffing in a Welsh council department will lead to an “inevitable increase in risk to public health” a new report has warned.
The stark warning called for extra investment into public protection officers amid a staffing crisis.
These inspectors are responsible for ensuring legal standards in food safety and hygiene, animal feed, shared houses, and air pollution. They also tackle rogue traders and scammers.
But as many staff were temporarily tasked with responding to coronavirus, their business-as-usual work became harder.
The new report said: “The lack of capacity to cover Covid work and other statutory duties at the same time inevitably means an increase in risk to public health and safety in the wider context. Total expenditure on public protection services is typically less than half of one per cent of the local government budget.
“Several reviews show that significant budget cuts, combined with additional statutory responsibilities, are increasing pressures on already stretched services. This is unsustainable.”
The report by Public Protection Wales, Building for the Future, was sent to the Shared Regulatory Services (SRS) joint committee. The committee scrutinises the work of food safety inspectors and other regulatory officers in the SRS department shared by councils in Cardiff, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.
During the pandemic many SRS officers have been seconded away from their usual work to help support the Covid response. This work includes advising care homes on infection control, contact tracing, and checking businesses were complying to social distancing rules.
Calls were made in the report for more public funding to be spent on training up the next generation of council inspectors, which could include new apprenticeships.
The report said: “Reliable central funding and new sources of funding to facilitate a future pipeline of officers entering the professional workforce is vital. We must build resilience and safeguard these critical services for the future.
“Professional career and employment opportunities have diminished in recent years. Consequently there are limited numbers of newly qualified officers entering the services. An ageing workforce, the loss of officers to other sectors, and a limited pool of professional officers to recruit all exacerbates this.
“There is an urgent need for investment in training and recruitment of public protection officers, including trainees, graduates and interns, to ensure services are sustainable.”
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