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MPs give green light for new FSA chair but demand bolder change

Heather Hancock is set to replace Tim Bennett as chairman of the Food Standards Agency in April after MPs gave their approval for the new appointment. But they have demanded a more robust approach to reform of FSA.
Heather Hancock
Heather Hancock

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.

About Heather Hancock

Ms Hancock was appointed as FSA deputy chair in September 2015. Previous and current roles include:

 

  • Private Secretary to three Home Secretaries
  • Establishing the Millennium Commission as its Chief Executive
  • Chief Executive of Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Executive Director of Yorkshire Forward
  • Managing partner and board member at Deloitte, which she joined in early 2000s and left in 2014
  • Led Deloitte’s extensive services to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
  • Deputy Chair of World Athletics Championships and Paralympic Athletics Championships for 2017
  • Chair of the BBC’s Rural Affairs Advisory Committee (delivered independent report to the BBC Trust on bias and impartiality in the BBC’s rural affairs coverage)
  • Trustee of Princes Trust - awarded the LVO in 2013 New Year Honours for this work
  • Lives in Yorkshire - owns upland farmland in Yorkshire Dales but does not farm it
  • Vice-President of the Upper Wharfedale Agricultural Society
  • Board member of the Global Social Progress Imperative
  • Trustee of the International Business Leaders Forum
  • Chairs the Development Board for St John’s College Cambridge, the Board of Wavelength and the Governing Body of Giggleswick School.

Ms Hancock's full biography can be viewed here

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