Many local authorities are not ready to take on public health budgets and responsibility from primary care trusts, according to research exclusively shared with HSJ and sister title Local Government Chronicle.

Only around half of councils currently have defined what they mean by “public health”, according to the report by consultants MHP Health Mandate.

The report, Ready for Health?, warns of “uneven preparedness” among councils ahead of the transfer of full responsibility for public health services in 2013-14.

The report’s findings are based on Freedom of Information Act requests to 152 upper tier and unitary local authorities, of which 72 per cent responded.

MHP found only 54 per cent of councils had a “definition” of public health. The report states: “Although some local authorities have very sophisticated definitions of public health in place, others… simply used the world class commissioning mantra of ‘adding life to years and years to life’”.

Others “reported that they were ‘not sure we have ever defined public health’”.

The report said: “This calls into question the extent to which all local authorities are prepared to assume responsibility for public health.”

Nearly a third of local authorities reported they had no communication with their PCT or emerging clinical commissioning groups in the last year on public health issues.

Some councils have already been allocated budgets and responsibility from primary care trusts for some public health services. Health Mandate requested a breakdown of such allocations in 2010-11.

Twenty-seven per cent of councils were unable to provide any details of the funding they received from PCTs to provide public health services.

Of the 52 per cent which did provide details of allocations received from PCTs, most said they received funding for substance misuse services.

MHP Health Mandate managing director Mike Birtwistle said: “If local authorities are to fulfil their potential they need to be prepared. 

“Many have made good progress, but for others there is a long way to go and unless this is addressed there is a danger that quality could go backwards.”