Public health funding should not be ring-fenced by the government when it is moved over to local council control, according to the Local Government Group.
In its response to the Liberating the NHS white paper, the local authority umbrella group said it strongly supported the proposed moving of responsibility for public health to local authorities and the creation of statutory health and wellbeing boards.
However, it warned that councils needed flexibility over funding and called on ministers not to ring fence public health budgets, as has been proposed.
Experience from pilot schemes has shown ring-fencing “can be a barrier to adopting a whole-systems approach to achieving the best health and wellbeing outcomes”, the LGG response said.
“Local authorities may see the ring-fence as the total resource with which to fund existing public health and health improvement activities currently supported by mainstream budgets,” it added.
On the same day health secretary Andrew Lansley restated the plan in his speech to the Conservative Party conference, the LGG urged the government to remove the ring-fence “to enable councils to use the resources to greatest effect”.
It also said the government should clarify the level of resource to be allocated to local authorities to meet public health duties.
Additionally the LGG response said local authorities should take a lead role in commissioning for services like long-term conditions; drug and alcohol dependency and dementia services which are in danger of becoming “Cinderella services”.
The Local Government Group comprises six organisations representing local councils including the Local Government Association.
LGA community wellbeing board chair David Rogers said: “Councils need to be at the heart of commissioning, especially in the areas they have experience and expertise in, like so-called ‘Cinderella services’ for the vulnerable.
“GPs are inexperienced here and there’s a real risk they may not see the incentive of commissioning services where success isn’t easy to measure, or might outsource commissioning for these groups, breaking a vital link between an individual’s health and social care services,” he warned.
The government has said it will make clear further details of its proposed public health reforms in a separate white paper due in December.