Chickens coming home to roost: local government public health budgets for 2017/18

The Department for Communities and Local Government has released new data on local authorities’ planned budgets for public health in 2017/18. It does not make good reading.

Since 2013, when local authorities were first given responsibility for many aspects of public health, they have received a grant for this from the Department of Health. It is easy to forget that in the first few years the growth in this grant was quite generous: 5.5 per cent in both 2013/14 (against an estimated primary care trust baseline) and 2014/15, reflecting the coalition government’s commitment at that stage to investing more in public health. But in 2015/16 things changed dramatically.

First, the grant stalled in cash terms. Then in June 2015, £200 million was clawed back by the Treasury in an unexpected in-year raid.

Second, midway through that financial year local authorities took on responsibility for young children’s (0–5 year olds) public health (and some other smaller responsibilities), receiving a transfer from the NHS of around £400 million, and from 2016/17 around £800 million for the full year. Although this has the appearance of boosting the public health budget, it is not growth but a transfer for the new responsibilities local authorities had taken on. So when we look at how the public health grant has changed over time we need to be careful to compare like with like.

Third, the last Spending Review announced cuts in public health funding of nearly 4 per cent a year, adding up to a reduction in spending in real terms of at least £600 million a year by 2020/21, on top of the £200 million already cut from the 2015/16 budget.

Full blog from The Kings Fund, 12 July 2017