The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has investigated how the control and inspection of foodstuffs can be strengthened in municipalities where the controls are inadequate or not carried out in a risk-based manner.
There are several reasons why some municipalities’ control and inspection of foodstuffs have shortcomings
The municipalities have the responsibility for the control and inspections concerning i.a. groceries, restaurants, commercial kitchens and drinking water facilities. There are both large and small municipalities among the municipalities that are deficient in their control and inspection of foodstuffs, and they can be found in all regions in Sweden. However, municipalities with few inhabitants in sparsely populated areas have, on average, a higher degree of deficiencies. These municipalities are often more vulnerable, for instance such as when someone on the staff becomes ill or quits. Statskontoret’s assessment is that the shortcomings are also due to the fact that some municipalities do not prioritise the controls to a sufficient extent. A better governance by the national government can, in this case, resolve some of the problem. However, in terms of the shortcomings that are due to factors such as the size and geography of municipalities, Statskontoret assesses that the problems cannot be rectified with an improved governance by the national government.
Efficiency reasons suggest that the municipalities should interact and cooperate with each other to a greater extent
Statskontoret has analysed to what extent different forms of municipal interaction and cooperation, or alternatively the national government’s taking over, of the control and inspection of foodstuffs might resolve the problems. Uniformity and legal certainty speak for a takeover of these responsibilities by the national government However, there are significant risks relating to effectiveness and efficiency, including in the form of significant reorganisation and adjustment costs, associated with such a takeover. We therefore recommend that the problems be addressed primarily by the municipalities interacting and working more closely with each other.
Statskontoret assesses that cooperation involving municipalities forming joint control authorities is best able to reduce the vulnerability and increase efficiency in the control and inspection of foodstuffs. Therefore, we believe that the control authorities need to become larger and fewer.
In many municipalities, food controls are organisationally integrated with environmental supervision. Therefore, Statskontoret assesses that measures to increase cooperation should apply to both areas, to the fullest extent feasible.
The Swedish Government should initiate a roadmap focusing on increasing the collaboration
Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government take the initiative by presenting a roadmap with measures that can increase municipal collaboration. The Swedish Government should formulate a target for the municipal control authorities that they should have at least 3 annual work unit equivalents (AWUs) working in the control and inspection of foodstuffs by 2025 at the latest. If the municipalities work together on both food controls and environmental supervision, we estimate that at the minimum, the control or supervisory authorities would have approx. 12 AWUs in total working within these areas. If the target is to be attained, the number of individual municipal control authorities would have to decrease from almost 250 today to approx. 100.
In order to achieve the target objective, Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government takes a number of measures:
Introduce the requirement that municipalities ensure the potential with collaboration
Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government initiate a process that introduces the requirement in the Swedish Foodstuffs Act that municipalities shall ensure the opportunities for collaboration. The collaboration should take place in those instances where it is possible. The purpose is to reduce vulnerability and increase the efficiency and uniformity of the control and inspection of foodstuffs. The proposal means that the municipalities can choose what forms of collaboration they want to adopt and what they work together with.
Increased focus on follow-ups of the municipalities to increase collaboration
An enhanced national government monitoring is a way to signal to the municipalities that they need to work together with each other to a greater extent. The National Food Agency, Sweden has already strengthened its governance and Statskontoret is of the view that the agency should continue on this path. The Swedish Government should consider giving the National Food Agency, Sweden additional authorities for the issuance of sanctions.
Provide financial support to the municipalities so as to contribute to the formation of joint control authorities
Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government introduce a financial grant to facilitate and assist the municipalities in their formation of joint control authorities. The purpose of the grant would be to cover the municipalities’ costs associated with the planning and formation of such a public authority.
Give clearer assignments to the county administrative boards to promote municipal collaboration
The Swedish Government should instruct the county administrative boards to take stock and assess which municipalities might obtain the most benefits from collaborating in the fields of control and inspection of foodstuffs and environmental supervision. The mandate additionally means that the municipalities will make efforts to form joint control and supervisory authorities within or outside the county’s borders.
The Swedish Government should consider additional requirements concerning collaboration and cooperation if these measures are not effective
If the measures we have described above do not result in the intended effect, the Government should consider in 2021 taking further action. The Government should consider, inter alia, to legislate that municipalities which have little control or supervisory activities should form joint authorities, according to the model that is used in Finland. Statskontoret assesses that this measure would be difficult to justify today as it involves an intrusion into the autonomy of municipalities. However if other measures do not have sufficient effect, it is Statskontoret’s assessment that such an intervention in the autonomy and self-government can be justified.