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The key role of the new Scottish local authorities in helping to improve the health of the Scottish people was high...
The key role of the new Scottish local authorities in helping to improve the health of the Scottish people was highlighted today by Scottish health minister James Douglas-Hamilton.

Speaking at the Partners in Health conference in Edinburgh organised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in collaboration with The Scottish Office Department of Health and the Health Education Board for Scotland, Lord James reaffirmed the government's total commitment to improving Scotland's health.

The challenge for both central and local government working together is:

-- to boost local health alliances, and drug and alcohol action teams throughout Scotland, with a strong authority-wide input

-- to identify how Scotland's councils could act to improve health in their own right, drawing on their role as big employers, large-scale providers and contractors

-- to examine how we can best complement national drives to improve health with local action that will bring health messages to diverse audiences

Lord James said:

'Scotland's new councils have reunited functions that were split for 20 years between regional and district councils. As they consider policies for housing and licensing alongside social work, education alongside leisure, environmental health alongside trading standards, we will have renewed opportunity to find and promote health gains.

'Local councils take decisions, day by day, that impact on the health of their residents. Some may be consciously made. Health factors will be in councillors and officials' minds when education committees debate health education issues, when transport committees look at traffic calming and safety, when social work committees look at measures to combat drug and alcohol misuse. In the major urban initiatives, and urban programme projects, the role of health in local regeneration has been recognised. Other links may be less obvious, but equally powerful.

'So much of the nation's health is built on millions of small decisions by ordinary Scots at home work or play about how they will eat, drink, smoke and exercise. Lots of things influence their choice - old ways and new tastes; family and friends; income, education and aspirations. We can try to influence them directly, and through settings that promote good health. That calls for a broad approach, working with local councils, schools, employers and employees, community bodies.

'That is why our 1991 and 1992 national policy statements `Health Education in Scotland' and `Scotland's Health - A Challenge to us All' placed so much stress on a collaborative approach to improving health. So we pin many hopes on local health alliances between health boards and councils, on workplace initiatives, and on drug and alcohol teams, that operate across boundaries and reach people who may neither have nor wish regular contacts with health agencies.

'There has been progress, here and abroad, towards healthier lifestyles. We have improved the health education framework in our schools,and cut car and fire deaths. Councils have played a leading part in these advances. Many adults have given up smoking; attitudes have hardened against drink and driving and smoking in public places; again local authority services helped make these happen.

'Recently I chaired an action group which produced the plan `Eating for Health'. It was readily apparent to our group how important local government's role would be. Specifying healthier food in school meal and other catering contracts, cookery courses for pupils and school nutritional policies came quickly to mind. But wider and less obvious roles - the importance of planning decisions on the siting of supermarkets, and the accessing of healthy foods from deprived peripheral and inner city areas - posed broader questions that would - I believe - be replicated for many other public health measures.

'Another step forward is promised by advances in the workplace. We are finalising work on the Scottish Office Guide to Health Promotion in the Workplace, and I shall be launching in two weeks' time the Scottish Workplace Health Award Scheme, which has been helped and supported by COSLA, the CBI, STUC, Scottish Enterprise, HEBS and health board general managers. If central and local government can lead the way by providing for their employees health promotion, and healthy eating and exercise facilities, many Scots will benefit directly. And it will be so much easier to press others to follow.'

The objectives of the conference are:

-- to explore the role of local authorities in improving health in the community

-- to encourage the development of health promotion strategies by local authorities

-- to encourage and facilitate effective health alliances between local authorities and health boards, and other relevant organisations

-- to encourage the adoption of health promoting workplace policies within local authorities.

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