No punishment for food blunder

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014

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The Christchurch City Council is unlikely to face consequences after a food-licensing blunder affected businesses, Local Government Minister Paula Bennett says.

All cafes and food manufacturers in Christchurch were left operating illegally for two weeks after food licences expired on June 30 and none were renewed by the council.

Bennett said the council would not face intervention as a result of the delay but would be under the spotlight and monitored for further botchups.

Delays in renewal were timing and administration, which the council said it had now fixed.

"The council has some unique challenges to manage on top of its core business requirements," Bennett said.

"While I don't believe this delay indicates the council has wider issues or that there is a need for intervention, I've asked officials to continue monitoring the council's work to ensure all is on track."

Hospitality NZ Canterbury president Peter Morrison said the blunder was "unbelievable".

"It's diabolical, considering all the trouble they've had with the building consents, that they couldn't get a simple thing like this right," he said.

Delays with the council finalising licensing fees under its annual plan and sending out invoices meant at least 1800 premises were left non-compliant for several weeks.

Morrison said the botch-up could prove especially problematic for food manufacturers, suppliers and wholesalers.

"People are annoyed because they rely on it. Their suppliers say they have to have a food licence before they'll supply them, or if they're supplying other people, like butcheries, they need a certificate to supply."

If the council knew there would be delays, they should have sent out an email or public notice, Morrison said.

Brett Giddens, co-owner of Revival bar and Tequila Mockingbird, said the delays should not have a significant effect on cafes and bars. "It would be nice to have it done, but doesn't really affect our operating," he said.

Council inspections and enforcement manager Anne Columbus said changes to the Food Act would "likely bring changes to the registration processes which will enable council's to better manage annual registration processes". The situation was "not a one off - and not unique to Christchurch".

It is unclear whether any single body is responsible for making sure councils fulfil their food licensing obligations.

A spokesperson for Local Government NZ would not comment on consequences for the council.

"We don't get involved in this subject nor is it our role to oversee council regulatory matters."

The Ministry for Primary Industries, which oversees food safety legislation, said it was a local government issue.

"MPI is responsible for food safety issues and is not responsible for registration of food premises."

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