Local authorities must meet their statutory obligations around environmental health, or the consequences may be severe, writes Tiffany Cloynes, partner at Geldards LLP and Clare Hardy, senior associate lawyer at Geldards LLP.
A report to the Audit Committee of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council towards the end of last year identified action that had been taken by the Council to respond to the findings of a report from the Wales Audit Office which was published in 2018 and which looked at the impact of cuts in resources on the delivery of statutory functions relating to environmental health.
Whilst this report related to a specific local authority, it illustrated the pressures that local authorities face in managing their budgets whilst delivering all the services that they are required to deliver and complying with all their statutory obligations.
In the area of environmental health, as the Wales Audit Office observed in its report, local authorities have numerous statutory duties. The report also noted that citizens highly value many of the services provided and that environmental health services directly impact upon the health, well-being and safety or residents and visitors. In such circumstances, any reductions or difficulties with delivering services could have a significant impact.
Factors which could have an impact on the delivery of services which local authorities have statutory obligations to provide could include:
Steps which a local authority might take to ensure that it complies with all its statutory obligations at a time of financial pressure could include:
If local authorities fail to meet their statutory obligations, the consequences could be severe. They could find themselves subject to complaint and challenge. In some circumstances, if there is sufficient concern about the extent to which a local authority is meeting its obligations, a Government might decide to exercise intervention powers.
Even if a local authority does not get to that stage, any identification of failure to meet statutory obligations or inadequate or poor quality delivery of services could lead to reputational damage and loss of confidence amongst the people that a local authority services.
It is therefore in a local authority’s interest to take a proactive approach to achieving and monitoring compliance with all its statutory obligations.