MPs have given the green light for change at the top of the Food Standards Agency but have called for the new chairman to adopt a ‘bolder approach’ to reforming the agency.
Heather Hancock was appointed as the FSA’s deputy chairman in September 2015 with a view to replacing current chairman Tim Bennett in the role in April.
Under Government procedures for this type of appointment, the decision required scrutiny and approval from Parliament’s Health Select Committee, which duly came following a hearing with Ms Hancock last week.
Ms Hancock will come to the job with wide-ranging experience in politics and Government-industry bodies, including serving as Private Secretary to three Home Secretaries and establishing the Millennium Commission as its chief executive.
As chair of the BBC’s Rural Affairs Advisory Committee, she delivered an independent report to the BBC Trust on bias and impartiality in the BBC’s rural affairs coverage.
The MPs pressed her, in particular, on how she envisaged the agency’s role, responsibilities and reporting lines, particularly in view of the criticisms made of its response to the horsemeat crisis in 2013.
In a report, the committee of MPs said: “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.
But it added: “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.”
Ms Hancock’s appointment marks the end of a long search for a permanent successor to Jeff Rooker.
Mr Bennett, a former president of the NFU and an FSA board member, will finally stand aside from the role of FSA chairman at the end of March after being as a temporary replacement to Lord Rooker in July 2013, a position that has extended on a number of occasions.
Ms Hancock will take on role as the agency continues to implement reform, recommended in various reports, including one by Professor Chris Elliott, into its roles and responsibilities following its much-criticised handling of the horsemeat crisis.
Headline recommendations included the establishment of a brand new Food Crime Unit.
Ms Hancock was appointed as FSA deputy chair in September 2015. Previous and current roles include:
Ms Hancock's full biography can be viewed here