The Board considered the Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) Service Plan 2021/2022.
The Head of Regulatory Services introduced the report and in doing so drew Members’ attention to the Recommendations, as detailed on page 37 of the main agenda report.
The Board signs off on the service plan for WRS each year. The process helps to make Members aware of what the service was proposing for the relevant financial year and provided a sign off that some central government bodies liked to see in relation to service delivery plans e.g. the Food Standards Agency.
The plan followed very much the pattern of previous years and had an Executive Summary to pick up the main points. Last year’s plan was overtaken by events, with the response to the global pandemic. At the time of writing the plan, the country remained in lockdown, with only a limited picture of how we would move forward.
Government was clear that lockdown would be followed by a move back to a tier-based framework of controls that would stay in place for a period, whilst the vaccination programme was on-going. At the moment, the service was planning for some involvement in COVID-19 controls for the first quarter of 2021/22, but it seemed likely that could run well into quarter two.
Flexibility would be necessary to reshape what was being delivered as the local environment changes during the first half of the financial year.
Away from the pandemic, the service would continue to shape its work around the long-standing strategic priorities for local authority regulatory services provided by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
A range of high-level activities had been identified within the plan so that Members would be aware of the general focus of activity.
The plan was devised in the face of on-going financial uncertainty in local government generally. Working with businesses and other partners was a key theme for both generating income to mitigate financial risk but also to ensure that outcomes were delivered that matched the priorities of partners and stakeholders.
Whilst much of our work for customers had fallen off during the initial period of the pandemic response, most of our long-standing customers had come back to WRS.
The performance indicators suite generated for 2017/18 had been retained to give continued comparability of performance across the years. WRS would continue to use intelligence to drive the business forward and the embedding of this approach and its associated processes would continue.
The Risk Register has been updated to reflect the current position. Our long-standing investment in mobile and flexible working had found WRS well-placed to deal with the need for home working and the majority activities were now enabled for this working pattern.
As with previous years, Members were asked to pay particular attention to the provisions for food hygiene delivery in the coming year. This was to meet one of the recommendations of the auditors from the Food Standards Agency who visited the service in May 2017. This year would be different from previous years due to the impact of pandemic controls. The Food Standards Agency had already decided that its moratorium on the normal inspection programme would remain in place until at least 30th June 2021.
WRS were unclear at this stage as to what the Food Standard Agency’s expectations would be in relation to these businesses, whether the visit programme would simply be re-scheduled or whether some investment in resource to catch-up will be required; potentially for 2 years with additional support from partner authorities to enable officers to catch up. Further information would be provided to the Board once the picture was clearer.
The Head of Regulatory Services responded to questions from Members with regards to additional funding for the ‘visit programme’ and the future vision for WRS in respect of working from home and virtual meeting areas/rooms; and if a fixed presence was required.
Members were informed that currently no additional funding was currently available for the catch up of the ‘visit programme.
With regards to the success of officers working remotely from home this was something that would be considered going forward; however, there was a balance to be achieved in maintaining team identity and morale.
WRS carried out investigative work for some larger investigations which required a group of people to work together and to maintain those relationships, by being able to bounce ideas off each other. This did not work as well in the virtual world, as it did face to face.
There would be opportunities to reduce the footprint in terms of the number of desks required but in his opinion some of the negative things that had come out of the lockdown was personal isolation and these things needed to be addressed and to ensure that we could deal such things, before rushing into an arrangement to get rid of office space and go effectively into virtual meetings and purchasing office space as and when required. He would not envisage this as the way forward, certainly not for the kind of services that WRS delivered. But there were options going forward to change the way that WRS delivered some of its services.
a) the Worcestershire Regulatory Services Plan for 2021/2022, as detailed at Appendix 1 to the report, be approved; and
b) that Members specifically note the level of work to be undertaken by the service this year in relation to the partners’ roles as local food authorities.