Council ‘raids’ health budget

Jeremy Wight, Sheffield's director of public health
Jeremy Wight, Sheffield's director of public health
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Sheffield Council has been accused of ‘playing fast and loose’ with its public health budget after diverting funds to prop up services following Government cuts.

An investigation by the British Medical Journal found Sheffield Council had redirected £3 million in public health cash to pay for services such as breastfeeding support, adult physical activity programmes and domestic abuse work.

Hundreds of thousands is also being offered from the public health grant in Sheffield to help community groups run libraries.

The city council has admitted ‘topslicing’ its health budget - while Dr Jeremy Wight, the city’s director of public health, said the authority was being forced to act ‘creatively’ because of cuts from central government.

Gabriel Scally, a former Department of Health public health director, said: “There is a long history of public health budgets being plundered by organisations that are having financial difficulties.

“This time it isn’t NHS managers who are playing fast and loose with public health budgets, it is local authorities.”

Mr Wight said: “Local authorities have for many years funded programmes and activities which have either explicitly or implicitly benefited public health through their mainstream revenue funding.

“It is the very significant cuts in this funding - particularly in the northern metropolitan authorities - that are leading us to have to use the public health grant creatively.

“For the Government to say funding is being protected or increased is only true at a very simplistic level. The wider substantive cuts are very damaging to public health more broadly.”

A council spokesman added: “The rationale for the topslicing was to release funding to pay for activity previously paid for by mainstream revenue funding, which otherwise would have been vulnerable.”

The Local Government Association branded the claims ‘scaremongering’.