Peter Rogers talks regulation

Peter Rogers, author of the influential Rogers’ Review, which defined the policy areas that regulatory services are responsible for, talks to the Agency about how local authorities and the FSA
can work together to improve public health.

The Food Standards Agency’s remit on food safety and healthier eating stretches from the farm gate ‘right through to final consumption – and even people’s future longevity’, says Peter Rogers,
whose ‘Rogers Review – National enforcement priorities for local authority regulatory services’ was published in March this year.

The role of local authorities in this respect is, perhaps, narrower and tends to address people who don’t apply the standards they should – those who don’t label food properly, misrepresent,
and threaten people’s health.

‘It’s a role that needs to evolve,’ Peter Rogers says. ‘We’re a very small part of the delivery chain. We are accountable for our standards and we need to be professional and deliver our part
of the bargain.’

But there is a way local authorities can engage more productively with the FSA – through the local area agreement model.

Local area agreements are, he explains, about the local delivery of better standards, with more partners, and outcomes geared to communities.

In Westminster City Council for example, where he is Chief Executive, the FSA’s work helping to push healthy eating and to improve nutrition, to reduce the amount of salt and saturated fats in
food, ‘will be part of our considerations’, he says.

‘If you take two very close parts of Westminster, divided by a road, there is a 20-year difference in life expectancy.’ Housing and education are factors, but ‘a lot of it is to do with
lifestyle and diet, and if you start dealing with diet, obesity, exercise… it provides the
opportunity over time to improve health, to improve life chance and, clearly, life expectancy.’

‘All of that work will come through local area agreements. It means we have to get engaged with schools, health services – almost all of the activities in a neighbourhood – about education and
information. And it needs to be embedded.’

And, while this has not come directly under the remit of his review, he adds that there are a number of existing performance indicators relating to health, and ‘the FSA’s education programmes,
and its work on labelling, is key to getting information across to the public’.

Westminster faces particular problems with minority ethnic languages, but front-of-pack traffic light labeling is ‘certainly’ better than working out the percentages in guideline daily amounts,
he says, and is the sort of thing local authorities need to use as part of their armoury.

Positive approach

Professionals, such as environmental health officers and trading standards officers, are already playing a key role in improving food safety and nutritional awareness, although he feels they
could be more positive in promoting the good work they do.

‘I think they have to tell people what they do, he explains. There’s a phrase I’ve used a number of times. “If people talk about public health rather than about prosecutions you get a positive
rather than a negative.”

‘And if you start talking about extending people’s lives by a few years, rather than putting one of the major companies into court for a
£400 fine, it changes the emphasis.

‘I think the professionals have to change their style of communication to make it very more outcome, rather than output, based. The outcomes are all positive, the output’s are often seen as
negative by the community – as penny-pinching bureaucratic officials, closing their local takeaway.’

Rogers’ review is now history

The Rogers’ Review is now ‘history’, he says. ‘The important thing is what we now do with it. I think we now need to move beyond my report into making it work – getting engaged in making it

‘We can all learn from each other. We need to pick up real examples of good practice and how things are working well, and pass them straight through the local government community very quickly.
And where things are not working well, broker partnerships with people who know what they’re doing somewhere else. That sort of consistency and knowledge transfer is the key to making
regulation much more effective.

‘It’s time to get on with it for real, because a lot of peoples lives and health depends on proper implementation.’

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