Councils will be told of their public health budgets by 11 January – and will be given above-inflation increases in the next two years, the head of Public Health England has said.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive designate of the body set up to oversee public health services, told HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle the Department of Health had set itself a “hard deadline” of next Friday. By then it will announce the total national budget for councils’ new public health role and the breakdown of this between authorities, he said.

The announcement was widely expected before Christmas, but was put on hold because of a last-minute decision by health secretary Jeremy Hunt that councils should be given two-year budgets rather than the planned one-year budgets.

“As I’ve been around the country, council chief executives have been saying to me that they want some certainty about what will happen in the second year, so this is good news for them”, Mr Selbie said.

He said all councils’ public health budgets would rise at above-inflation levels in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and that some councils would receive increases “considerably higher” than the level of inflation.

Delay

He said the DH was aware of concerns that the delay in announcing the funds could hamper councils’ budget-setting process. However, he said: “We spoke to the LGA about this. They were clear that as long as councils were given the information by 11 January, it wouldn’t interrupt their planning.”

However, London Councils has called for “urgent priority” to be given to announcing councils’ budgets, arguing that the delay has held up councils’ plans to budget for their new public health responsibilities.

Funding gaps

He also said councils that had identified shortfalls in their baseline budgets would be given extra funds to plug the gap.

“There will be a significant addition to the baseline to account for that”, he said. “Local authorities have been in touch with the department and we’ve done what we can to address those gaps. Where it’s still not sufficient, we’ve committed to resolving it in-year.”

Mr Selbie did not say how much extra funding would be given to councils to plug the gaps – but a Department for Communities and Local Government press release issued alongside last month’s finance settlement said the total for 2013-14 would rise from £2.2bn to £2.6bn.

Funding formula

Mr Selbie said the DH also hoped to announce a formula for the long-term distribution of public health budgets, to take effect after 2015, next week – but that its “immediate priority” would be the next two years’ funding.

The proposed long-term formula sparked controversy when research for Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council showed it would cause money to be redistributed from deprived areas to more affluent ones. Last month a group of central London authorities said it should be fundamentally reworked, using different factors to share funding between councils.  

“We’ll have to continue to work on [the formula] to get it right”, Mr Selbie said. Asked whether major changes could be made to the proposed formula – which is based on mortality rates – he said: “The intention is to get it to reflect what we’re asking of local government, a lot of which is not about mortality, but about other services such as drug use and sexually-transmitted diseases.”