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New public health funding formula due

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The recommendations of the Department of Health-commissioned assessment of how public health funding should be distributed between councils are expected to be published soon after the local elections.

Tim Baxter, head of the department’s Public Health Development Unit, told LGC that the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, an independent expert body, was working on an allocations formula for public health funding. He said it would publish its proposals after the local elections, which will be held on 3 May.

Councils will become responsible for public health from April 2013. The DH said in January they would receive £2.2bn for the role.

Councils’ baseline funding allocations have been calculated on the basis of primary care trusts’ historic spending. However, the department agreed to develop a needs-based formula for distributing funding in subsequent years.

Nicola Close, chief executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said she expected the allocations for 2013-14 and the following few years to be based on a combination of historic spending and a new, needs-based formula.

“There will be a hybrid system for a few years,” she said. “It will have to take into account historic spending and a new system based on fair shares, because if the new formula was introduced in one go, it could mean programmes having to close mid-way through.”  

Ms Close said the main issue of contention would be the rate at which the new system of allocations came into place.

“Councils in areas that have invested heavily in public health stand to lose out under the new formula, but those in areas that have not done so will want to see a fast pace of change. I don’t think this has been settled yet, and it will be tricky,” she said.

Meanwhile, at least eight councils have rejected Department of Health guidance by creating public health director posts that will report to other directors rather than to the chief executive.

In an update on the public health white paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People, published in July 2011, the department said it expected councils to give directors of public health “chief officer status with direct accountability to the chief executive”.

But research by Gatenby Sanderson shows that in eight local authorities, public health directors will report to directors of children’s services or directors of adult social services.

The research, based on a survey of 30 councils, also shows 11 had encountered, or could foresee, problems over the pay scales or terms and conditions of the new public health directors.

Half of the respondents said they would like their director of public health to be recruited through a competitive process rather than being transferred from primary care trusts, as is due to happen.

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