Members of the Environment, Finance & Communities Scrutiny Committee recently discussed the role of, and challenges facing, Fife Council’s environmental health service.

This team improves, protects and maintains people’s health and wellbeing throughout Fife. Their remit includes public health, food safety and standards, occupational health and safety, our built environment, waste management and pollution control.

The pandemic has dramatically increased the workload and demand on the service, at a time when there’s a national shortage of qualified environmental health officers.

Convener of the committee, Cllr Tim Brett praised the Fife team’s work but expressed concern about staffing levels.

“These officers, along with colleagues from Trading Standards, have played a lead role during the pandemic and I want to thank them for everything they’ve done,” he said.

“On top of their normal day job and helping the NHS Test & Protect team, they’ve had to stay on top of rapidly changing legislation, proactively visit or contact businesses to advise them on regulations and controls - and respond to a continual flow of enquiries and concerns.”

Since the start of the pandemic, environmental health officers have handled over 2,100 incoming Covid-related queries, including complaints about alleged rule breaches such as:

  • trading while restrictions in place or continuing restricted activities
  • lack of physical distancing and wearing of face coverings
  • poor hygiene measures

Cllr Brett continued: “The scrutiny committee is, however, very concerned about environmental health staffing levels and the impact this is having, both on individuals and the service we can provide.

“We will be asking the council’s Administration to ensure this is given a priority within our organisation and to raise the issue nationally so that Fife supports the focus on improving recruitment to this professional area.

“We’ve also asked the service to report back to the next Scrutiny Committee on the internal change exercise that’s underway to review how the operation should be structured and staffed in future.

“Environmental health plays such a broad and vital role in supporting our economy and keeping both workers and consumers safe. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the issue but their work goes far beyond Covid, and it’s important we don’t lose sight of it.”