Councils have been warned by Westminster politicians not to use their new responsibilities over health to “empire build” or encroach on health service budgets.

Speaking at the National Association of Primary Care annual conference, health secretary Andrew Lansley said that local authorities must not “tell clinical leaders in the NHS how to do their job”.

He also warned that the government would step in if the national commissioning board tried to create a “top-down system”

Mr Lansley said: “There are a number of risks that even the most enthusiastic consortia may find themselves wading through treacle with primary care trusts and local authorities over the next two years.

“If [primary care trusts] are trying to be obstructive or if local authorities turn themselves into empire builders; if the national commissioning board tries to recreate a top-down system, we are determined that it stops.

He said local authorities had a “strategic role” to play but that they “must not try to tell clinical leaders in the NHS how to do their job.

“You have to take it from me that I will make organisations understand that they are helping to create the new way of working and make it succeed.”

Speaking to HSJ, Commons health committee chair Stephen Dorrell agreed that vigilance would be needed, after local authorities had their central government grant cut by a quarter.

Mr Dorrell said: “If evidence shows that local authorities are encroaching on NHS budgets unfairly there would be very serious consequences and it would be something individual councils would find hard to defend to their electorates.”