Local Government and Public Health

Some of my councillor colleagues told me that they weren’t interested in attending yesterday’s workshop on public health, because ‘it was a county council problem’. The county council are the ones with all the resources and have been involved with public health for the last few years, but that doesn’t mean districts will be able to leave them to it – the game has changed it seems.

The first speaker at Tuesday’s event was from the Strategic Health Authority. According to the programme, after this presentation, ‘Members will better understand the government objectives through the health reform policy…’. Well, I must of missed the bit where that became clear. I now now know how my fellow councillors feel, when I’m trying to explain the technicalities of our planning policy!

What I did understand, was that the current system is fiendishly complicated. It has lots of people with wonderful job titles like, Clinical Commissioning Group Chairman and enough acronyms to fill a a decent sized book. Some of these acronyms describe the various boards, panels, groups, herds, gaggles and flocks, these people attend to wring their hands over issues such as, how fat we are all becoming.

Britain used to be the sick man of Europe, now, apparently, we are the obese man of Europe. Well if the footballers and tennis players can’t do it, at least us fatties are stepping up to the mark to claim first place in something.

The new system, that local government will be wrestling with, appears to be as equally fiendish in its complexity and bewildering terminology. The only difference will be, that instead of the NHS being the ones getting the blame for us all eating, drinking and smoking too much, it will be local government.

A spokeswoman from the Local Government Association then gave us a presentation, promoting the opportunities the new responsibilities will offer local government – opportunites? She told the audience, that local government was extremely keen to take on these new responsibilities, offering confirmation by telling us that, ‘no council had said no thanks, we’ve already got too much on our plates’. Cynic that I am, I suggested that saying no, at a time when local government was being subjected to a form of genocide by central government, would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Of course unitary and upper tier (county) councils would say yes please, we can do that. It will help them justify their continued existence. It also gives them a further opportunity to claim that they are essential, whilst district councils are an unneccesary expense that should be scrapped. Maybe they’re right, time will tell and that time could be sooner than many of us think.

Healthy residents bonus for town halls

Andrew Lansley, the Heath Secretary, will today announce the restoration of the link between councils and improving public health. Councils had historically been responsible for public health, until the NHS was reorganised in 1974. £5.2 billion for this will be ringfenced and councils will earn funding based upon how well they improve aspects such as air pollution, tooth decay and truancy. Daily Telegraph – 23/01/12.

It seems that, whatever the politics of the government, the policy of making local government beg for funding lives on. No doubt many councils will jump at the chance to grab this money, even though it is unlikely to be without both strings and a time limit on the funding offered. The strings can be coped with, but the funding time limit is the killer, as having put a service in place, especially one local taxpayers value, withdrawing a service comes with serious political fallout.

Of course county councils won’t be looking at the longer term fund issues when bidding for this cash because they will only see it as further justification for their continued existence. Their reason for ensuring that they take on as much work as possible, is to do with the increasing discussions that are taking place on the future of two tier local government. I’ve little doubt that this debate will become more and more heated as budgets shrink and the fight for survival becomes more and more desperate.