There are 9 item(s) tagged with the keyword "Public health".
Could the impact of COVID-19 on local authority finance be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back for many frontline services already emaciated over the past decade by austerity?
APSE has written extensively in the past about budget reductions which have seen authorities lose 60p in the pound from funding provided to them by Government since 2010. This has had a hugely disproportionate impact on the frontline neighbourhood services that the public value the greatest. These huge cuts, compounded by significant rises in demand, across council activities, have squeezed the life out of these often non-statutory services.
With the demand for social care budgets increasing hugely in the current period this will squeeze other frontline services even further. And whilst the public recognise the importance of social care to many of the most vulnerable and needy people at present, the vast majority don’t experience social care in their daily lives.
APSE’s own public opinion polling carried out with Survation shows that most people really value refuse collection, public realm, parks, roads and street cleaning. It is my belief that this love of the frontline has only been enhanced over the past few weeks when these weary warriors have stepped up to the plate yet again and delivered, when everyone else has been placed in a state of suspended animation by lockdown. It would be a real tragedy for local government if this greatly increased recognition of the role it plays in keeping society functioning in the toughest of circumstances is quickly lost by a failure to fund properly these very services in the future.
Reading the recent announcements from Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, about the new trailblazer programme to tackle childhood obesity I couldn’t help but wonder whether there is any joined up policy thinking taking place on domestic matters whilst the shadow of Brexit remains looming large over the country.
Whilst any new money is welcomed by local government, alongside the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, a competition where local authorities can bid to be one of five winners who will receive £100k a year for three years to come up with innovative ideas around active lifestyles and healthy eating, isn’t going to push back the tide on the problem when a tsunami of cuts is coming in the other direction and overwhelming public health initiatives; closing parks; forcing greenspace sell offs; and causing significant reductions in accessible sports and leisure facilities.
Another week, another warning. If we don’t address the funding pressure building in the system around adults and childrens’ social care services then local governments ability to fulfil its more general responsibilities, to its communities, will implode.
So will Government address this impending catastrophe through new fiscal raising proposals in the imminent social care green paper or deal with it in next year’s comprehensive spending review? Or will we remain like mindless zombies on a relentless march to fulfil the predictions contained within various versions of the graph of doom? That money will run out for anything other than statutory services and even then such protection will be severely tested.
A recent APSE opinion poll, conducted by Survation, exploring public opinion on neighbourhood services, found that yet again, the public give parks the highest satisfaction ratings amongst all local government services, however we also know that parks are one of the hardest hit services as a result of austerity, with many facing an uncertain future.
Anyone who reads the local government sectoral journals is well versed in the graph of doom scenario and the squeeze it creates on non-statutory services. The £3B of cuts that have hit England’s neighbourhood services are playing out harshly on the average parks services and for the most deprived areas the impact of austerity is felt all the more harshly.
The recent launch of the much delayed Childhood Obesity Strategy turned out to be something of a damp squib after being trailed as one of the most important health initiatives of our time.
With voluntary targets set to cut sugar in children’s food and drink by 5%, ultimately rising to 20% and a threat that Government will ‘consider alternative levers, if insufficient progress is being made’, the language of ‘should, might and we encourage’ is hardly going to promote a rush by suppliers in the food industry away from sugary drinks and junk food.
School meals funding in England currently comes from a variety of sources; free school meals and Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) are funded via local authorities with money from Government. For other students, parents or guardians are expected to foot the bill. Many local authorities continue to subsidise the cost of school meals, though the number able to do this is decreasing rapidly.
As is evident in APSE’s latest finance report, ‘Sustainable local government finance and liveable local areas’, it looks likely that by 2020, council combined current and capital spending will be at its lowest level since before 1948. It is increasingly evident that education catering may only survive in many local areas where it is capable of being able to fully recover the costs of the services. However, in spite of the parlous state of funding for school meals, it is an important contributor to the wider role of local authorities in public health.
Former speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, is credited with the quote 'All politics is local' and I think that adage has never been more apt than at present.
Having spoken at and attended a number of packed fringes at all of the main party conferences recently I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that there is a reawakening by the political parties that many of the most pressing policy issues are best resolved at a local government level.
While there are few surprises when it comes to local government’s ability to attract the blame for issues of national significance they have had very little control over, even a cynic like myself was shocked at how quickly they became the whipping boys on public health when recent life expectancy league tables were published.
Visited Telford and Wrekin Council today to catch up with the Managing Director Richard Partington and find out what current initiatives the Council are working on. And there was plenty to hear about and see.