Cutting public health budgets by £200m is “short sighted, short term and unwarranted”, according to bodies representing council leaders.
The warning comes from the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE).
Public health budgets have been targeted for cuts by the Treasury because of a multi-million pound underspend in 2013-14.
“Councils would need to make the reductions from other areas of public health, which would critically reduce the staff and skills and other programmes, like weight management and physical activity”
LGA & SOLACE
In a joint response to the Department for Health’s consultation, the LGA and SOLACE said there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding” of how councils had managed public health budgets to date.
It said: “The underspend in most cases is not an underspend at all, but rather a planned approach to public health service development across several years and may therefore now be committed in contracts.
“Councils took time to manage their new contracts, disinvest from services that were not delivering improved outcomes and they took time to plan more prudently,” it said.
“That was something that the ringfenced budget and funding levels announced for multiple years was supposed to incentivise, ensuring that end of year budgets are not squandered on last minute spending in order to meet their annual allocation,” it added.
Nursing Times’ sister title Local Government Chronicle reported last month that councils face a flat 6.2% cut to their 2015-16 public health budgets.
Finding the savings would be “challenging”, the LGA and SOLACE said, adding that they wanted clarification that the cuts would come with “no further strings”.
They said: “Anything less will create a ringfence within a ringfenced budget and make the task of finding the reduction more difficult.”
The response also requested clarification from the government over whether the savings would be “recurrent”.
The organisations said the £200m cuts would “undermine” shared objectives to improve the public’s health and reduce the pressure on the NHS and adult social care services.
The NHS Five Year Forward View said the NHS would support “hard hitting” advocacy on public health, and back stronger public health related powers for councils and elected mayors.
The LGA and SOLACE added it would be “impossible” to prevent the reductions affecting the NHS due to the number of services councils commission through it.
“Even if councils seek to protect these areas, councils would need to make the reductions from other areas of public health, which would critically reduce the staff and skills and other programmes, like weight management and physical activity,” they warned.
Councils contributed an additional £54m to public health spending from their own resources in 2013-14, the LGA and SOLACE said.
They warned the cuts this year were likely to have “the negative effect of deterring councils from contributing other funding streams to public health in future”.
They added there was a “danger” that if public health spending continued to be treated differently to ringfenced NHS budgets then they would never “properly integrate”.