EditorSolicitors Journal

Under-resourced local authorities struggle to tackle food crime

Under-resourced local authorities struggle to tackle food crime

Food hygiene investigations down despite rise in consumer complaints

A lack of funding is preventing local councils from cracking down on food crimes, two years after government cuts to trading standards budgets.

The number of raids on outlets selling counterfeit alcohol and misrepresented food between April 2012 and March 2015 rose by 10 per cent - from 115 to 127 - according to commercial firm EMW.

The majority of raids took place due to the illegal selling of counterfeit alcohol with off licenses the main offender, while misrepresentation of food sold by late night fast food outlets was also high on the list.

Though the number of raids has increased, EMW believes the figure remains low with under-resourced councils struggling to carry out investigations.

Despite efforts to combat food crime by councils and trading standards teams, 40 per cent cuts to budgets in England and Wales are beginning to take effect.

While budgets will vary from council to council, their ability to deliver an adequate service and investigate food crimes has been adversely affected due to staff and budget cuts, said EMW.

Over the last five years, there has been a decrease in food hygiene interventions by 6.8 per cent, despite customer complaints rising 9.3 per cent in the same period, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.

The commercial law firm said it was notable that of 363 raids carried out over the three year period, just 45 led to an enforcement action or prosecution.

Revealing his concerns over the latest figures, Sebastian Calnan, a consultant at EMW, said: 'Trading standards teams do a great job but without adequate funding or resources instances of food and drink fraud or miselling may slip through the cracks.

'As takeaways are common culprits of food fraud or mis-selling, trading standards teams at local councils will often target these venues, but, more still needs to be done to ensure the selling of food and drink is both safe and fair for the consumer.'

In Birmingham, trading standards carried out 102 raids, the highest figure recorded from 243 councils.

'Of course we would expect more raids to happen in larger cities like Birmingham, as there are more opportunities for offences to take place, but, the low numbers of raids in other areas and in Great Britain overall are a cause for concern,' Calnan reflected.

In January, HMRC launched the 'Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme' (AWRS), which requires all businesses selling alcohol to other businesses to register with the scheme by 31 March 31 2016.

The scheme aims to further regulate the alcohol trade by reducing the sale of illegal alcohol and help recoup the £1.2bn that HMRC estimates is lost through evasion of alcohol duty and VAT each year.

In March, Newham Council destroyed £75,000 worth of illegal alcohol, which had been seized from shops selling alcohol without a license and from restaurants selling wines and spirits without paying the correct duty.

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