HEREFORDSHIRE Council’s cuts-slashed food standards and hygiene service has been rated the best in the West Midlands at what it can still do.

The rating also ranks the service the 16th best in the UK overall.

This time last year the Hereford Times revealed that staff and budget cuts saw the service breaching the national safety code it was supposed to uphold, as managers made decisions that went against food law practice to meet priorities.

The situation was said to be so serious that the council risked direct intervention from the Food Standards Agency in the running of the service.

But the results of a survey by Which? magazine rating all of the food regulatory teams across the UK ranked  Herefordshire best in the West Midlands region and 16th best in the UK.

This ranking was based  on the food hygiene rating scores achieved and the service’s quick response to to inspect new businesses setting up.

"The results are reassuring, as despite the challenging financial climate the council is currently facing, by using a risk based assessment of new and existing businesses, we have clearly prioritised our work effectively and maintained high standards,” said Cllr Patricia Morgan, cabinet member for corporate services.

After last year's "limited assurance" rating the service revised its inspection programme to align with reduced staffing and budgets.

That programme set out to achieve inspections of all high risk categories premises and fewer - if any - inspections of lower risk premises.

The programme fell three short of its 270 high risk target only because three businesses had closed down by the time their inspection came around.

Another 37 low risk premises were inspected more than required in response to complaints, request from the businesses themselves or proximity to other premises needing inspection.

Over 2013-14, the average food hygiene rating score of premises at satisfactory or above remained constant at around 96%, well above the West Midlands average of around 90%.