MPs warn on health cash shareout
A £2.7 billion fund to improve public health is not being dispersed quickly enough to local authorities to fairly reflects their needs, MPs have warned.
Nearly a third of 152 local authorities currently receive funding that is more than 20% above or below what would be their fair share, Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.
Thirteen local authorities remain more than 20% below their target funding proportions, she added.
Public Health England (PHE) was set up in April 2013 and gives local authorities cash from a £2.7 billion ring-fenced grant.
Ms Hodge said the Department of Health has decided not to change the grant distribution for 2015-2016, meaning inequalities in funding will persist.
"Local authorities are also presently constrained by being tied into contracts to which the Department had previously committed, such as for sexual health interventions, limiting their ability to respond to local priorities," she said.
"It is not clear whether the £2.7 billion public health grant to local authorities will remain ring-fenced. If the ring-fence is removed, there is a risk that spending on public health will decline as councils come under increasing financial pressures.
"The Department should set out clear plans for how quickly it will move local authorities to their target funding allocations for public health and prioritise a quick decision on whether the ring-fence will remain."
She said there were still unacceptable inequalities that mean healthy life expectancy for men ranges from 52 years to 70 years depending on where they live.
"These inequalities make Public Health England's support at a local level particularly important, but we are concerned that PHE does not have strong enough ways of influencing local authorities to ensure progress against all of its top public health priorities," she added.
"Given how important it is to tackle the many wider causes of poor public health, PHE needs to influence departments more effectively and translate its own passion into action across Whitehall."
PHE chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said: "This is a fair and balanced review by the Public Accounts Committee and we welcome their recognition of the good start we have made.
"We agree that there is more we can do and the committee's recommendations will help guide us in our work with local government and the NHS to improve the public's health. We will respond more fully in due course."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We have made a huge investment - £8.2 billion in total - through local authorities in improving public health, and delivered real-terms growth across the country in the last two years.
"This major investment will stay in place next year and we want to see local areas continue their excellent work to help people lead healthier lives. The money has again been ring-fenced so the focus will remain firmly on improving the health of local communities."