The mood was unanimously upbeat at a UK Public Health Association forum as the organisation turned a year old. Tash Shifrin soaked up the good vibrations

There are two ways to have a heated debate on public health.

One is to stage a massive row at a suitable conference.

Alternatively, you can move through the progressively hotter rooms of Harrogate Turkish baths and have a civilised chat with a few delegates after a day of presentations and workshops.

Many of those attending the UK Public Health Association's forum last week obviously preferred it the second way, but the conference chamber was almost as warm and friendly as the baths. Waves of support greeted public health minister Yvette Cooper's 'heartfelt' speech to the 700 delegates.

'It's really inspiring for us to hear your commitment, ' UKPHA vice-chair Shirley Goodwin told her, later suggesting to HSJ: 'Maybe she's not been in politics long enough to stop being excited.'

Ms Cooper offered nothing new, but a willingness to be part of 'a learning process of building up partnerships and making them work in practice' went down well, although she failed to answer a question from the floor about health redistribution.

Unlike predecessor Tessa Jowell, Ms Cooper is a junior minister. Her appointment sparked concern that the post was being downgraded, but Ms Cooper soothed the 'fear that I might get taken over' by acute care.

She spoke of the 'need to engage all sectors of the NHS in public health and prevention'.

UKPHA chair Geof Rayner described Ms Cooper as 'mistress' of her ministerial brief.

But the UKPHA wanted to see the 'huge gulf between the NHS and local government' closed, he added. He also wanted to see 'a commitment to redistributive policies' from government.

A year since its foundation, the UKPHA is having a happy first birthday. 'We believe our time has come, ' enthused Ms Goodwin.

'All the key people are sitting talking to us.' And the 700 delegates - 'all kinds of professionals, and non-professionals' - showed the 'truly multidisciplinary nature' of the public health movement.

'There's an optimism that public health capacity will be increased, ' said Avon health promotion service manager Hazel Millar, based at North Bristol trust.

UKPHA chief executive John Nicholson told delegates that one of the themes arising from the event was 'the development of a new politics' for public health - 'a sort of 2001 public health odyssey'.

Not everyone was uncritical. Non-executive director at Norfolk HA Sue Gale was worried about the direction of Budget cash to acute trusts. Money should go 'into the preventive side'.

Ms Gale - also on the board of Norwich primary care group - said PCGs were 'very keen on addressing the way money is spent in acute trusts'.

Partnership was the way to address the wider determinants of health, argued Rita Stringfellow, chair of the Local Government Association's social affairs and health committee.

'Many functions for which local authorities have responsibility are vital for reducing inequalities and improving health.'

A note of near-controversy was struck by Malcolm Bailey, manager of the voluntary sector Murray Hall Community Trust, in the West Midlands.

Urging more work with voluntary bodies and 'user control' of services, he said there were 'too many bureaucrats' and questioned whether services were rising to the challenge of modernisation.

Then the lights went up for a bit of audience participation. 'Fold your arms, ' instructed Mr Bailey. 'Now reverse them, the other way.'

Perhaps expecting a group hug in the true spirit of partnership, the audience struggled to comply.

'You had to think, ' said Mr Bailey. 'It feels a bit uncomfortable - but you can do something differently.' l New kids on the block Richard Parish, chief executive of the Health Development Agency, which replaced the Health Education Authority on 1 April, said it would 'probably be the first agency of its kind in the world to systematically map the evidence base' for public health.

It would also disseminate evidence and set standards for programmes such as health action zones and health improvement programmes. But he pledged: 'We will not be the Ofsted of public health.'