Why HSE is losing its race to be ready for Brexit

Thomas Wild, James Tancred · 11 September 2020

Food, hand sanitiser and disinfectants – three everyday examples of things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being in HSE’s protective hands, but they are.

But scientists in the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) in HSE – like health and safety inspectors – are feeling the stress of the halving of HSE’s budget over the last decade.

Our members in CRD monitor and assess both current and newly developed industrial and home-use pesticidal and biocidal products, and disinfectants. To ensure food and product safety, teams of specialists assess products and their active substances against stringent data requirements, to protect:

  • people working with the chemicals,
  • the environment, including water systems and animals,
  • our import and export of food,
  • and you – the consumer.

But HSE’s ability to do its duty is being diminished. Resources are being over stretched as valuable expertise leaves HSE.

The inescapable driving factor for staff leaving is the stagnant and diminishing salaries. Without any means for staff to progress through their pay band, or an ability to readily transfer into the next pay band, many scientists move to the private sector, which offers higher rates of pay and, often, a better overall package.

Scientists in HSE find themselves at the forefront of Brexit. Trading food with our European partners is a key area of concern for the UK government, and as such, a competent, fully independent regulator, in order to carry out its new responsibilities is needed.

With HSE soon to be no longer working in partnership with other EU states, it is clear that an increase in staff capacity is needed to deliver effective enforcement, policy making and scientific decision making.

So far though, finding those people has been a challenge. In late 2019 a mass recruitment campaign for around 130 FTE staff went live, to little success. As such a further recruitment campaign has been launched recently, but it remains to be seen if the 100+ new staff will be in post come the first week of January – ready for EU exit.

Even if new staff have been interviewed and are in post in early January (which is unlikely), this is already too little, too late. Given the specialist nature of scientific roles in HSE, many of the 100+ staff will need significant training in their specific field in order to be fully competent.

By HSE’s own admission, the training program for new recruits takes around two years, bringing into serious question how ready HSE actually is for being an effective, independent regulator come January.

Being an independent regulator will not only bring multiple challenges in terms of resources, but there is still much to be discussed around future trade agreements and the Northern Ireland protocol. The outcome of these discussions could present extra costs and burdens to both industry and HSE, potentially having to navigate and regulate standalone GB schemes and the EU chemicals schemes simultaneously. The government cannot ignore this.

We need urgent additional funding in order for HSE scientists to deliver safe and effective products to the UK market.

For a fully funded HSE

The campaign for health and safety regulation to get the resources it needs