Simon Stevens has called on local councils to support service reconfiguration in the health service.

Speaking at the Local Government Association annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday, the NHS England chief executive said: “I am not one of these people who believes that the answer is mass centralisation of NHS hospital services… but I am one of those people that believes that when the evidence tells us that quality and efficiency [can be] improved from service changes, then that needs to happen.”

Addressing local government officials and councillors, Mr Stevens said the NHS was “going to need your support in making the public argument for some of the kind of changes that are going to be required”.

He said that “a lot of local authorities have been incredibly effective in doing that”, giving the example of local authority and clinical commissioning group support for a proposed major reconfiguration of general surgery and emergency care across eight acute trusts in Greater Manchester, which was recently given the green light for public consultation by NHS England.

Mr Stevens also addressed changes to the better care fund announced by the Department of Health last week, which were heavily criticised by local government.

Under the changes, £1bn of the £1.9bn contribution to the fund from CCG budgets will have to be spent within the NHS and will depend upon performance against a planned cut to accident and emergency admissions.

Mr Stevens stressed: “All £1.9bn is flowing through the health and wellbeing boards, so it is jointly going to be commissioned”.

The £1bn will be for “emergency reductions for NHS commissioned services” and it is not an assumption that [it all] has to flow into acute hospitals,” he clarified.

Mr Stevens used his speech to announce a major programme extending the use of combined health and social care personal budgets.

He said it was “time to step up partnership “between the NHS and local government”, but assured that programme would be a “voluntary endeavour” and it did not have to take place everywhere.

“Different councils [and] different parts of the NHS will choose to do different things at different paces,” he said.