'The biggest challenge for 2023? Tempering my ambition in the face of reality’: FSA’s Emily Miles looks ahead

There’s always more the Food Standards Agency could do, but it must first deal with its most pressing priorities, its chief exec says
Photo: Quinn Comendant/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Civil Service World

15 Dec 2022


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months? 

The launch of the UK’s first report on food standards, jointly by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. In a post-Brexit world, the UK wants to protect its high standards of imported and domestically produced food. We gave an independent, evidence-based assessment on how that was going, fulfilling our “watchdog” role.   

What was your most difficult decision in 2022? 

We’ve had some really tough prioritisation decisions to make at the FSA in autumn 2022 because of unexpected work we’ve had to do on borders and retained EU law. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the FSA in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet that challenge as an organisation? 

Delivering amazing work to ensure the country has food it can trust with less money (in real terms) than we expected. We’re doing all the usual things: good business planning, careful prioritisation, reducing our estates footprint, looking for efficiencies. 

“We’ve got great people and we do amazing work, but we need to deal with the immediate challenges facing us. I counsel myself regularly to be more patient” 

And personally, as a leader?  

How to temper my ambition in the face of reality. There’s so much more the FSA could do to build evidence about food risks, protect public health, improve our regulatory services, and make it easier for businesses to do the right thing by the consumer. We’ve got great people and we do amazing work, but we need to deal with the immediate challenges facing us, especially re-prioritising and operating as efficiently as possible. I counsel myself regularly to be more patient. 

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 

Actually,  I have a winter story rather than a Christmas one. A heavy snow prevented most of my staff from getting in when I was at the UK Border Agency and responsible for a big caseload of asylum seekers, some of whom sometimes suddenly needed housing at a few hours’ notice. It was when staff had to be in the office to access their IT and case file information. Some committed civil servants walked or cycled several miles to the office in Croydon to ensure the most vulnerable asylum seekers who would otherwise have been roofless in sub-zero temperatures, had accommodation that night. The civil service really is wonderful.  


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