The Department of Health was set to announce an extra £400m for councils’ public health budgets – but called this off at the last minute.
HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chonicle understands the department had planned to announce two days ago that the national total for councils’ public health function, which they are due to take on in April 2013, would rise from £2.2bn to £2.64bn.
But officials decided at the last minute not to make the announcement, saying instead that it would give the figures in the new year. The department’s explanation for the delay was that it wanted to give councils a longer-term budget. “We need to undertake extra work to make sure this happens”, it said in a statement.
Local government has reacted with concern and frustration to the delay. Philippa Roe, the Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, has written to the department’s permanent secretary Una O’Brien to voice concerns.
“I am concerned that there seems to be confusion within government about the quantum of funding allocated to public health for 2013-14”, she said in the letter.
“Due to the late local government finance settlement, local authorities are already in an intensely difficult position to ensure a balanced budget for 2013-14. The delay and confusion over public health budgets has only made this position more difficult.”
Council finance directors have also emailed Local Government Chronicle to say they are anxious about the delay because the public health figures were “vital” to setting next year’s budgets.
The issue was also raised during a telephone conference question and answer session with local government minister Brandon Lewis. Worcestershire County Council chief executive Trish Haines said a post-Christmas announcement “was going to cause a real problem because [members] are going to be asked to set a budget on an incomplete set of figures”. She was told Department for Communities and Local Government was working “very closely” with DH.
The planned rise from £2.2bn to £2.64bn was published in a press release by the Department for Communities and Local Government, but has since been removed from the document. A source at DCLG said it had published the figures “in good faith” but the “situation changed very rapidly”.