Appointment of the Chair of the Food Standards Agency Contents

Appointment of the Chair of the Food Standards Agency

1.On 8 September 2015, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Jane Ellison MP, wrote to us on behalf of the appointing Ministers for the appointment of the Chair of the Food Standards Agency. She informed us that following the conclusion of an open recruitment campaign, the appointing Ministers had jointly agreed that Tim Bennett, the interim Chair, should remain as Chair until 31 March 2016; and that they would then like to put forward Heather Hancock as the preferred candidate to take on the role as Chair from 1 April 2016.

2.Knowing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s interest in the work of the Agency, we invited our colleagues on that committee to join us in holding a pre-appointment hearing with the Ministers’ preferred candidate. The hearing took place on 5 January 2016. A transcript of the session is available on our website.

3.The hearing addressed Heather Hancock’s background and experience, her awareness and understanding of scientific issues and public health and of the food industry in the UK, and her views on the challenges facing the Food Standards Agency and its board. In accordance with the guidelines for pre-appointment hearings agreed with the Liaison Committee, we questioned her on her personal independence and relevant financial interests. We invited her to comment on the Agency’s role, responsibilities and reporting lines, particularly in view of the criticisms which had been made of its response to the incident of contamination of beef products with horse and pork meat which came to light in 2013.1 We also asked Ms Hancock to discuss how, if appointed, she would approach matters relating to the FSA’s responsibility to protect and empower consumers, its budgetary constraints and its relationship with the industry which it regulates.

4.We are grateful to our colleagues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for participating in the hearing and contributing their expertise and knowledge of the Food Standards Agency’s work to the questioning. Following the hearing we consulted them on the candidate’s suitability and our conclusion has been informed by their views.

5.On the basis of the discussions during the pre-appointment hearing, we are satisfied that Heather Hancock has the professional competence and personal independence required of the Chair of the Food Standards Agency. We would nevertheless like to see her accept the need for a bolder and more proactive stance towards effecting change where she considers it necessary, for example in sorting out the cluttered and confused lines of accountability for food safety and food authenticity. As Chair, we will expect her to identify and challenge the gaps in the system.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 7 January 2016