Senior councillor slams government grant changes

Coun Jeanie Bell

Coun Jeanie Bell

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A senior St Helens councillor has called on central government to carefully consider the impact of its proposal to include the public health grant within the self-sufficient 100 percent business rate retention.

In a motion carried at last night's full council meeting, St Helens Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing, Councillor Jeanie Bell stated that the use of business rate retention for public health funding could ‘squeeze’ public health budgets.

The grant enables public health to improve and protect health and wellbeing, and reduces health inequalities – with prevention services such as weight management, drug and alcohol misuse, early intervention of mental health, and sexual health among those to benefit.

In 2015-2016, St Helens was hit with a 6.2 per cent reduction in funding, amounting to over £909,000. This was followed by a 2.2 per cent reduction for 2016-17 (£346,000) and a further 2.5 per cent reduction expected in 2017-18 (£370,000).

Prior to 2013, Public Health was part of the National Health Service (NHS) but has since been under the control of local authorities after it was moved by the Health and Social Act 2012 in order to improve the links between communities and population.

Councillor Bell believes the move has been a successful one, but stressed that more needs to be done to improve the health inequalities in the borough, and the country as a whole.

She added: “The current funding of the public health grant is based on historic spend and not on need. The use of business rate retention for public health could squeeze public health funding budgets, and has the potential to increase inequalities in areas of greatest need and deprivation like St Helens.

"The NHS Five Year Forward view puts prevention at the heart of the developments within the NHS in order to manage demand.

“Prevention is key in the sustainability and transformation plans being developed in the NHS, yet the proposal to fund public health through business rate retention may jeopardise the scale that public health will need to deliver our key prevention initiatives to realise the benefits of health and social care in our communities."