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LGC View: Public health raises big questions about councils' priorities

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When public health was transferred to local government last year, it was accompanied by a flurry of activity.

Much of this was about disentangling a wide range of complex contracts and making sure the funding was available to keep NHS services going for at least another year.

Since then, the flurry has died down and a more considered approach has started to emerge.

Instead of focusing on the public health team itself, or the services and contracts carried over from the NHS, this approach looks at what the rest of the council can do to promote good health.

This brings big opportunities. As Steve Kent, director of localities at Cheshire West and Chester Council and president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport explains, it is helping councils get to grips with thorny issues such as blocking inappropriate licensing applications.  

And it has wide-ranging implications. Blackburn with Darwen BC sees “national advocacy” on the health effects of welfare, tobacco control and alcohol pricing policies as an important part of its job. Dominic Harrison outlines the council’s plans.

The authority has also taken a major step in subjecting all major decisions to a health impact assessment.

It may sound technical, but it could have important consequences for local government.

Imagine, for instance, a proposal for a fracking site in an area with such a policy.

If health reports were to present evidence of potentially damaging effects, would this override the council’s desire for the economic growth, job creation and business rates boost that shale gas extraction could bring?

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