Environmental health services under growing pressure
Our report finds that services aren’t transforming to protect the environment and public in the future.
Welsh councils are finding ways to meet most of their statutory environmental health obligations, but there is concern over the way these important services are delivered in the future.
In the first of a series of studies, looking at how councils are managing to deliver key services with less money, the report 'Delivering with less – the impact on environmental health services and citizens' also includes information sought from the public by our 'My Healthy Town' campaign run in January of this year.
Huw Vaughan-Thomas, Auditor General, said:
Environmental health services affect every aspect of our lives. They play an important role in ensuring we retain healthy towns and neighbourhoods. Incremental and reactive spending cuts mean that environmental health services are under growing pressure and at risk of becoming unsustainable. Councils need to find more efficient and effective ways of working if they are to continue to provide these important services to the Welsh public and meet their current and future environmental health responsibilities.
The report found that council spending on environmental health, covering a range of services, is not being protected during the current period of financial austerity. Spending cuts are having an impact on the ability of environmental health services to deliver national strategic priorities, as well as protecting the public and visitors to Wales.
Our report found that there has been a significant reduction in the resources available to environmental health over the last three years. This includes an overall reduction of budgets by 4.2 per cent and, more significantly, a 16.4 per cent reduction in staff numbers.
The report also notes that because of reductions in resources councils will find it difficult to implement new environmental health duties that will protect the public. Finally we concluded that Environmental Health services are reaching a tipping point. For councils to ensure that they are able to continue to meet their legal responsibilities and to deliver against national and local priorities, they need to look radically at service reconfiguration and transformation.
The report also includes a number of recommendations, which include:
- Improving efficiency and value for money by exploring options such as collaboration, outsourcing and charging for services.
- Revising best practise standard. to align the work of environmental health with clear strategic priorities.
- Provide scrutiny chairs and members with the necessary skills and support to effectively scrutinise and challenge service performance.
- Improve engagement with local residents over planned budget cuts and changes in services.
- Clearly set out the expectations of council environmental health services under new housing and health legislation and agree how these new duties will be delivered.