The Department of Health has almost doubled some councils’ public health allocations, according to research which reveals authorities in the relatively wealthy south and east are among the biggest winners.

The rises and regional variations are revealed in a breakdown of councils’ first public health budgets, which the DH boosted by 18 per cent following concerns about a shortfall.

According to the analysis by HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle, Buckinghamshire County Council was awarded the biggest increase - 95 per cent more than last year’s draft allocation, receiving £15.7m instead of £8m. Reading Borough Council’s £4.2m draft budget will rise to £7.5m.

The analysis also shows for the first time that some of England’s richest regions will benefit more than their poorer northern counterparts from the new way public health budgets are calculated (see graphic below).

London, the south-east and the eastern regions have all seen their councils’ average allocation increased by 20 per cent or more compared with last year’s draft budgets. These were estimated by the primary care trusts whose public health role councils inherit in April.

In contrast the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber saw their budgets rise by 18 per cent, 16 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. The East Midlands got the smallest increase, of 14 per cent.

Patricia Birchley, Buckinghamshire council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, told LGC she had lobbied hard for the increase.

“We told [former health secretary] Andrew Lansley and [health secretary] Jeremy Hunt that we couldn’t cope with the very low budget proposed,” she said.

Two Conservative-run councils, Wokingham Borough Council and Windsor & Maidenhead Royal Borough Council, will get less public health funding than their draft allocations - 11.9 per cent and 1.5 per cent less respectively.

Stuart Rowbotham, strategic director of health and wellbeing at Wokingham council, admitted its original allocation looked “oddly high”, while neighbouring Reading Borough Council and Slough Borough Council had asked the DH to re-examine their allocations.

“A lot of our services will be shared with neighbouring councils so it wouldn’t be in our interests if they were struggling,” he said.

The rises address key concerns, reported by LGC in October, that some councils would suffer shortfalls in public health budgets.

Stephen Watkins, director of public health at Stockport PCT said “a handful” of areas could still face funding gaps.

This concern is acknowledged in a letter circulated to councils by Mr Hunt last week.

“Where egregious errors in the estimated baseline have been noted … we will look to local partners to use their commissioning flexibilities to manage the pressure,” it said.

A DH spokeswoman said the budget allocation was “fairer” than the old system.

“Areas in the north are traditionally higher funders of public health, so other areas need their budgets to rise faster,” she added.

Regions health Jan 2013