The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has developed a new digital system for registering food businesses with the aim of replacing the individual processes in local authorities.
It has recently begun to use the service with 10 councils and is calling for others to become involved in taking its data to populate their management information systems (MISs) for food businesses.
The system provides an alternative approach to operators registering directly onto local authority systems – the process for which varies widely and in some cases is still paper based – and has been developed as part of the FSA’s Regulating Our Future programme, which is modernising the way food businesses are regulated.
It has been designed for all the data to be inputted digitally, in contrast to the earlier system that asked companies to download and fill in a form and send it to the FSA, and provides guidance for food service operators in the registration process. They receive a reference number and a notification is sent to the relevant local authority.
An API has been set up for councils to access the relevant data for their own MISs, which supports them in regulating food businesses in their areas.
The data will also feed into the FSA’s Unified View programme, which is aimed at giving it a clear picture of food operators across local authorities.
Julie Pierce, director of openness, data and digital at the FSA, told UKAuthority: “We need a good, complete and accurate view of all businesses registered. The local authorities need to have a good and complete view of businesses within their areas. And for businesses our research showed it was not always straightforward what they had to do.
“We had a set of aligned briefs to create a new, more modern digital service that should be straightforward to use and to make it much easier to find it. That’s what we’re striving for.”
She added that the system has been developed using the Government Digital Service Standard as a starting point, then through a series of conversations with users and research. It is being developed on an iterative basis with feedback from the councils that have begun to use it.
Pierce also acknowledged that some local authorities may need to make some changes in how they work but said the FSA has aimed to minimise this.
“The approach we’ve taken to try to keep the service as slim as possible, not just collecting data for its own sake but challenging ourselves about what data we really need,” she said. “And creating the APIs should make it as straightforward as possible for local authority systems to consume the service.
“We’ve been talking to the main MIS providers so they understand what the API does and what information will be passed across it, which is relatively straightforward.
“We’re also talking to local authorities that may be taking a more transformational digital approach as this would be perfectly aligned with that.”
The FSA has begun to engage with local authorities to encourage them to use data from the new system and to point food service operators towards using it for registration. It aims to have about 40 councils onboard by the end of March and all of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by March 2020.
It is also talking to the MIS providers on the basis that when they are won over they will bring their customers among the councils with them, and with food industry associations.
Image by Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0 flickr