• Arm’s-length body makes final round of cuts mandated by 2015 spending review
  • Savings found in health marketing budget, workforce vacancies and estates

Reducing marketing work and cutting vacant job posts have made up most of the required cuts to Public Health England’s budget in the coming financial year.

The arm’s-length body has had to find £30m savings in 2019-20. About half the savings have come from cutting approximately 50 vacant posts at the organisation.

It will be “actively managing vacancies as they arise”, the finance director Michael Brodie told HSJ.

The agency will also do less health marketing this year though it is still deciding how it will reduce it. “We are reshaping our campaigns in line with the new budget,” Mr Brodie added.

Further savings this year have come from “rationalising [its] estate”. Mr Brodie told the April advisory board meeting as he presented the budget for the coming year: “[The agency] operated out of 116 properties [in 2013]. We’re now down to 49 properties. And we’re now out of all of our commercially leased properties as well.” 

The cuts are “in line with the savings required of all of the [arm’s-length bodies] and actually the Department [of Health and Social Care] itself as well,” he added. “We’ve been treated no better, no worse than other arm’s-length bodies.”

This is the final year of cuts imposed on public health in the 2015 spending review. Finding the savings was “a challenge” and the agency “had to make tough decisions,” Mr Brodie said.

He explained PHE’s 2019-20 budget allocation is £287m, supplemented by £175m of commercial income. He added PHE had made £165m in recurrent savings since it was created in 2013.

Those savings came from a “major organisation design and review” process that helped the agency get through the demands of the 2015 spending review, he said. But with that now at an end, “the next spending review again will create a whole new set of challenges”.

One of the agency’s key pieces of work this year will be “preparing for the 2019 spending review”. There has been speculation recently that the review could be delayed beyond this year, however, as a result of the ongoing Brexit process.

Late last year, Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, told HSJ it was “inconceivable” that, with so much emphasis being put on preventing ill-health, “you would then be reducing expenditure on prevention”.

“But those are matters for the spending review and the Treasury,” he added.

PHE also expects this year to work with the NHS to implement the prevention elements of the long-term plan and to help develop the DHSC’s green paper on prevention.