Protecting the public

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In Ben Douglas’s wide-ranging letter in your edition of July 25, on the question of sheriff courts, he admits: “I don’t have the statistics, but would guess…”

However, in a later paragraph dealing with abattoirs, he states quite categorically that abattoirs have been reduced in number “…largely as the result of throttling restrictions imposed by environmental health officers (the fastest-growing employment sector in Britain) increasing abattoir expenditure…”

It would have been better if Mr Douglas had admitted when writing about abattoirs and the role of environmental health officers (EHOs) that he didn’t have those statistics either, as the following facts will show.

The number of EHOs employed by local authorities in Scotland has reduced over the last three years as follows:

2010: number of EHOs – 535.5 (full-time equivalent);

2011: number of EHOs – 507;

2012 : number of EHOs – 492.5 (full-time equivalent).

I would suggest that if this is the fastest-growing employment sector in Britain, the British economy must be in a more parlous state than we have been led to believe.

It would also have been advisable for Mr Douglas to check more of his “facts”.

For instance, his assertion that EHOs have responsibility for supervising abattoirs. This has not been the case for many years – indeed, when I retired from local government more years ago than I care to remember, the department of which I was director and which had environmental health as one of its functions had had no such responsibility for several years.

EHOs have a very important role in protecting the health of the public and this does not include, as Mr Douglas implies, being obstructive, but rather assisting businesses achieve the appropriate standards of safety, hygiene and quality.

I have confined my facts to the national picture (to which I am indebted to staff at the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland). But no doubt if any of your readers cared to check with Scottish Borders Council they could ascertain the situation regarding EHOs locally, and I am fairly confident that the local situation will mirror that at the national level.

Michael Halls