Council bosses will be asked to pump more resources into Bradford’s already stretched food safety team as the District prepares for a City of Culture boost.
The team were speaking to Councillors about the pressures facing their department at a meeting on Wednesday evening – pointing out that there is a huge backlog in food business awaiting inspections.
One Councillor pointed out that the successful City of Culture bid will likely lead to many more new food businesses looking to open in Bradford, and more needed to be done to strengthen the service in preparation for this.
Members of Bradford Council’s Regeneration and Environment Scrutiny Committee were given an update on Food Safety in the District at their last meeting.
They heard that during the pandemic there were a huge number of new food businesses registering with the Council. Many of these were home based – set up to prepare and deliver food during lockdown.
The increase, and pressures on staff numbers, meant there is currently a backlog of 600 food businesses awaiting a hygiene inspection.
Members were told there was a huge variety of food producing settings in Bradford, from schools and care homes to take aways and farms.
Angela Brindle, environmental health manager, said many businesses were facing pressures themselves. She said: “They were struggling through Covid and they continue to struggle financially. Businesses are finding it hard to deal with the increased cost of utilities and a lack of staffing which is often linked to Brexit.”
Despite this, the Council had seen a steady increase in premises that were receiving a three food hygiene rating or above.
Mrs Brindle said the team had 11 full time staff, although only a third had experience in food safety enforcement.
Ideally the Council should have at least 18 full time staff – a report to the committee claimed.
Members heard that it was difficult to find experienced food safety staff, and so the focus was on taking on apprentices or new graduates and training them up.
When asked what the problems were, Mrs Brindle said some staff were temped to work in other authorities, which paid up to £5,000 a year more than Bradford.
She said Bradford could also be a “challenging” place for a food safety officer to work, although she added: “It is a fantastic place to be a trainee.”
Staff and budget pressures made it difficult for the department to deal with the inspection backlog.
Councillor Liz Rowe (Lab, Windhill and Wrose) said: “We’ve just won City of Culture, and we know we’ve had a number enquiries from hotel chains and restaurants who want to come to the District.
“I can see the backlog getting worse rather than better.”
Members voted to urge the Council Executive to consider the current workforce levels of the food hygiene team in the light of the City of Culture win.