Underspend on public health - and how Lib Dems would help road safety, Elswick Pool with it

February 25, 2016 12:31 PM
By Greg Stone
Newspaper coverage of the forthcoming cuts to public health budgets in the North East rightly noted the disappointing news that the Government is to cut this budget by around 4% in coming years, and identified that this funding can do useful work in supporting healthier lifestyles as well as seeking to reduce harm from alcohol and tobacco.
The article noted correctly that the Coalition government restored public health budgets to local authorities, rather than the NHS, in the last Parliament, after Mrs Thatcher's government removed this in the 1980s. However, it might usefully have noted that Labour had 13 years to do something about this in government and failed to do so. It might also have noted that Lib Dem health ministers in the last Government protected this budget. Alas, with the Conservatives now in government alone, there is no one to stop them doing so now.
The public health budget situation is not quite as grim as Newcastle Labour councillors like Lord Beecham would have us believe. In fact, the council's own budget documents show that Newcastle's public health budget will rise next year - one of the only budget headings to do so - by a welcome £1.248 million. One suspects that this "good news story" is not one that Labour want to shout about.
The article also might have reported on the current balances of Newcastle City Council's share of this pot. It has underspent its public health allocation for this year by £158,000 - hardly evidence of a stretched service, if it cannot spend all its money.
Lib Dem Opposition councillors will be calling in next week's council Budget for this underspend to be used to promote two very healthy initiatives.
We want the council to reverse Labour's planned £90,000 cut to the council's £190,000 budget for road safety programmes, at a time when the number of serious and fatal accidents in the city has risen.
We will also call on the council to use the remaining underspend to give the Friends of Elswick Pool a fighting chance of launching a community takeover, following its closure by the Labour council earlier this year. Such a model worked well a few years ago when the then Lib Dem run council gave comparable support to the Friends of Fenham Pool.
The Lib Dem opposition thinks that the council can do more on public health. It has a very well paid Director of Public Health, who works jointly for the council and the NHS, who produces an annual report and funds local initiatives, but the council does not yet have a clear strategy or delivery plan despite our calls for one. We want to see a more joined up approach on public health and earlier this year we called for the city to follow the lead of the "Healthy Liverpool" strategy pioneered on Merseyside for integrated health and social care involving the council and NHS partners working more closely together.
We will be seeking to ensure the council does more on this as part of our Liberal Democrat manifesto for a Better Newcastle City Council, and we will make further announcements about our alternative Budget priorities for the council next week - including costed proposals to reverse many of the Labour administration's cut
Letter from Cllr Greg Stone on behalf of Newcastle Liberal Democrats to local media