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Public Health Funding (Local Authorities)

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2018

3. What recent representations he has received on the potential merits of increasing public health funding to local authorities. (907850)

We have had lots; it is just that none come with any idea of how that might be paid for. The Government have a strong track record on public health. Local authorities in England have received more than £16 billion in ring-fenced public health grants over the current spending period. Decisions on future funding for that area of spending are of course for the next spending review.

On current projections, over £800 million will have been cut from public health budgets by 2021, £2 million of which has been cut from vital services in my constituency relating to sexual health, and to tackle obesity and smoking. Will the Minister guarantee that the new NHS long-term plan will reverse the cuts to public health budgets?

I know that Opposition Members like to pretend that the past eight and a half years did not have to happen, but there is a reason why they had to happen—the economy was crashed—and eight and a half years is not a long time to clear up the mess of the last Government. But we are very clear, as the hon. Gentleman should know, that a focus on prevention will be central to the long-term plan. He mentions child obesity—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may wish to listen. The public health grant remains ring-fenced and protected for use exclusively on improving health, but local government spending on health is not just about the public health grant. The Government spend money on many other things, including around the child obesity plan and vaccinations, and that is all around prevention and public health.

As local government is reorganised in Northamptonshire ahead of May 2020, will the Minister consider whether it may not be appropriate in all cases for local councils to manage public health budgets, and whether in some cases it might make sense for the NHS to regain control?

There are active discussions going on between my right hon. Friends the Health Secretary and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about this, but the bottom line is that Parliament legislated through the Health and Social Care Act 2012 for local authorities up and down the country in England to be public health authorities. We believe that they are well placed to make these spending decisions with the ring-fenced grant—£16 billion —that we have given them.

The underfunding of public health in Cumbria means that the NHS spends only 75p per child per year on preventive mental health care. Added to that, over three quarters of young people with eating disorders are not seen within the target time of a month, and in the event that they are seen, there is no specialist one-to-one eating disorder service to see them, despite the Government promising three years ago that there would be. Will the Minister meet me and our local NHS so that we can get a better deal for our young people on all three of these points?

The hon. Gentleman will remember, of course, that £1 billion extra was put into mental health in the Budget last month, but I would absolutely be interested to hear from him. There are very good things going on up and down the country in local authorities with the ring-fenced £16 billion that we have given them. We are very interested to hear about where there are good examples of things going on, and the long-term future discussions around them will take in the spending review, as I have said.

The Secretary of State claims that prevention is one of his top three priorities, yet this year alone the Government have slashed public health budgets by £96 million. That includes cuts to smoking cessation services, sexual health services, obesity and addiction services and many more. This affects the most vulnerable in our society, so will the Minister do the right thing today and cut the rhetoric, commit to reversing these damaging cuts to public health, and put funding in the long-term plan?

The hon. Lady—my shadow Minister—knows that I have a great deal of respect for her. She mentioned smoking; smoking rates in England are at their lowest ever levels. We hear spending commitment after spending commitment from the Labour Government; it is like the arsonist turning up at the scene of a fire. I will take very seriously, as I am sure will the Treasury, her bid towards the spending review discussions, but yes, prevention is better than cure and it will be at the heart of the long-term plan.