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Councils should act responsibly to win public health funding freedoms

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Councils will have to prove they spend their first public health budgets responsibly before ring fences are lifted from the £2.6bn pot, the head of Public Health England has indicated.

Speaking at the official launch of the agency today, Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie said authorities should not assume the protection would be automatically dissolved after the initial two-year spending round. This begins next week when authorities take over the public health role from primary care trusts, which are being abolished.

There was “no suggestion” that the ringfence would be lifted after 2015, Mr Selbie said. Any decision about whether councils would be free to spend public health funding as they chose after 2015 would “depend on how local government embraces the responsibilities” of taking charge of public health services, he added

However, Mr Selbie did indicate that councils could allocate the ringfenced grant for a wide range of uses, including a children’s literacy programmes as proposed by Derbyshire CC. 

“Investing in literacy is a great thing to do”, he said. “I’ve been asked about local authorities spending some of this money on filling in potholes, and whether this is a good use of the public health grant, and I say well ultimately these are local decisions.”

He added: “If [councils] choose to do this rather than that, that’s ok. If they were spending money on something completely outside any reasonable view about what constitutes health then of course we’d have to be addressing that with them”.

Mr Selbie also revealed at the launch that there would be 16 vacant public health director posts when councils take on the public health role next week. All these posts would be covered by interim directors and sharing directors with neighbouring authorities. “There isn’t anything I want to share with you that’s of a worrying nature about [whether] people are ready”, he added.

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