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Local authorities to spend public health budget on road gritting and leisure services, says shadow health minister

Local authorities are set to spend ring-fenced public health  money on road gritting, environmental health and leisure services,  says shadow minister for public health, Diane Abbot, MP.

Speaking at a Smith Institute event at the House of Commons today, Ms Abbott, said she had written to local authorities to get their feedback on the health reforms and most had cited concerns over lack of clarity and uncertainty over how much public health money they would receive. Revised baselines and final allocations are expected to be distributed by the Department of Health in the next few weeks.

Describing health and wellbeing boards as ‘the glittering jewel in the crown of NHS reforms’ which Labour saw as the ‘right direction of travel’, Ms Abbott said the boards must be viewed in the bigger financial context.

She said: ‘In the context of the financial pressures and the uncertainty, the Government’s position about what we cut generally is the new localism.

‘If you ask “will you be more specific about your sexual health mandate” or what is to be done about this or that health need, they say “local level will know best”. It seems to me (the Government) is hiding behind the new localism and yet local authorities are getting this (public health) money, which has real potential, at a time of unprecedented financial pressure. And obviously a lot of local authorities are thinking about how they can put some public health money into social care.

‘But I’ve had local authorities tell me they’re going to spend their public health money on leisure services, environmental health and on gritting their roads, because then fewer people fall over and go to hospital, and I think they’re most probably going to spend some of their money on doing something about houses in multiple occupation.

‘Now all of those things are extremely worthwhile and health-related. However if you start taking money out of your protected public health money for those sorts of things, the money available for other health services is necessarily small.’

Speaking at the same event, organised in association with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Richard Humphries, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said he worried about the increasing expectation being placed on health and wellbeing boards.

He said: ‘I don’t think anyone is clear how it’s all going to work. But what we can be clear about is that locally the only point that brings together key players to collaborate is the health and wellbeing boards which I suspect accounts for the enthusiasm. If anything, I worry about the increasing weight of expectations that are being placed on health and wellbeing boards.’

The event was held to launch a new publication on health and wellbeing boards called Getting Started: prospects for health and wellbeing boards.

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