Bedford Labour councillors criticise 'real terms cut' in public health funding

MP for Bedford and Kempston astounded by the decision - but Conservative Group Leader says the council has received millions of pounds of support.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 3:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th March 2021, 3:08 pm

The Government has signalled that Public Health will receive a below-inflation increase of 0.7%, which Labour councillors say is in effect, a real-terms cut.

But the Conservative Group Leader for Bedford Borough says the Government has supported Bedford Council with millions of pounds of public money during the pandemic, and said Labour was "trying to manufacture a problem that doesn't exist".

The public health ringfenced grant to local government for 2021/22 is £3.24 billion. This represents a £45 million increase (1.4 per cent) since 2020/21.

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Every local authority will receive at least a 0.67 per cent cash terms increase. The grant includes £23 million to cover costs of routine pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) commissioning with bespoke distribution.

The 2021/22 grant will continue to be subject to conditions, including a ring-fence requiring local authorities to use the grant exclusively for public health activity which may include public health challenges arising directly or indirectly from Covid-19.

Portfolio Holder for Public Health and Wellbeing councillor Louise Jackson said: "Our officers have been working flat out with businesses, schools and communities to contain outbreaks and respond to the multitude of challenges that this pandemic has thrown their way.

"It is the local teams that have often found themselves picking up the pieces when the Government’s dubious policy choices have resulted in rising infection rates.”

“It is our team right here in Bedford Borough that is making a real difference with tracing contacts, and helping people not only to isolate but to access money, food and medical supplies when they need it.

"It is the local teams that are engaging with hard to reach groups and trying to drive up vaccination rates.

“Throughout the last 12 months we have seen all too clearly how locally driven public health responses are the ones that matter, and for that not to be recognised in this funding announcement is not only an insult to local authority public health teams up and down the country, but will prevent us from tackling the issues that we really need to address."

Commenting on the Government’s announcement on public health grants allocation to local authorities, Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston said: "Cutting public health budgets after the biggest public health crisis in a century is not just inexplicable but dangerous in defence terms.

"The Prime Minister said that infectious disease outbreaks are likely to become more frequent in the next decade as he delivered the Integrated Review.

"But instead of funding properly the very footsoldiers, the public health teams that have dealt with the public health crisis, the PM in a warped set of priorities has found billions to increase nuclear warheads for the first time since the Cold War.

"Public health services and the NHS have more than proven their worth through the pandemic, but the PM has chosen to cut NHS pay and cut public health budgets.

"I believe the public want nurses not nukes and properly funded local services to tackle the issues that have a serious impact on their everyday lives such as sexual health, drug and alcohol services and obesity.”

Bedford Borough Conservative Group Leader, councillor Graeme Coombes, said: "Labour are trying to manufacture a problem that doesn't exist.

"The Government has supported Bedford Borough Council with millions of pounds of public money during the current health pandemic and the Borough is now being given nearly £100,000 in extra public health funding for 2021/22 taking the total grant from Central Government to £8.9m.

"It fully recognises the key role of Local Councils in delivering public health services locally and the high priority we place on good public health.

"This is over and above additional money that has been given by Government for the council to address health related matters such as £450k to protect vulnerable adults, £222k to help rough sleepers with drug and alcohol dependency issues, and a £310k Workforce Capacity Fund for Adult Social Care.

"The Government is also funding a truly astonishing programme of mass vaccination in Bedford Borough and across the country.

"It is now up to Bedford's Labour/LibDem run council to spend this public money wisely, to recognise the importance of ensuring a fit and healthy population and to deliver public health services that actively and continually promote the health and wellbeing of Bedford Borough residents."