CONCERNS have been raised about public health services in County Durham as council bosses prepare to face the highest grant funding cuts in England.

On November 29, Durham’s County Council’s health and wellbeing board heard about proposed changes to public health funding.

Government proposals include a shift from ring-fenced grants to 75 per cent business rate retention in April 2020.

A new funding formula will decide the amount of public health funds for each council– with £40m expected to be cut across 12 North East local authorities.

Current predictions suggest Durham County Council will lose nearly half of this figure with £19million in cuts – a 38 per cent reduction on 2017/18.

“We’re the worst affected local authority in England,” director of public health for the council, Amanda Healy told the meeting at County Hall, Durham.

“All of our North East authorities will see a reduction and it varies across all local authorities but overall there is a shift from areas of inequality to areas of affluence.”

A presentation revealed that under the funding formula, Surrey County Council was likely to get £14m extra while Hertfordshire County Council would receive a boost of £12.6m.

Cuts are expected to have an impact on the county's public health services, NHS, police and the voluntary/community sector, the meeting heard.

While meetings have taken place with Public Health England to raise awareness of cuts, Ms Healy explained, more support was needed from council partners.

This included writing letters to the Secretary of State for health and the Home Office and exploring alliances with other councils affected by grant reduction.

Cabinet member for children and young people,  Councillor Olwyn Gunn, stressed the cuts fell against a backdrop of funding issues– from the future financial viability of schools to children’s services budgets being cut by a third.

“All of this rolls into a really massive time bomb for us,” she said.

“This is about partnership and working together to see what pressure we can place. We’re not working in silos, we’re working together to try and get the best possible support for education and care for our children and young people and families across County Durham.“I’m absolutely passionate about this and whatever anyone can do anywhere, I urge you to do it, it’s just so important to us.”

Public health covers council and externally commissioned services tackling issues from smoking, mental health and alcohol misuse to community safety, teen pregnancy and obesity.

The original public health grant – transferred to Durham County Council in 2013 – was £44.5million and was previously based on the amounts primary care trusts would spend on public health.

From 2016 to 2020, the public health grant has been reduced by £6.97million or 12.8 per cent.

Chief Executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Sue Jacques, also criticised the cuts to local authorities in the North due to the level of health inequalities.

“It’s a swingeing change that would give us decades of potential lost opportunity if it was to come to pass,” she added.

The Independent Advisory Committee for Resource Allocation formula is used to decide public health grants within business rate retention.

Predictions for future funding for local authorities are based on 2015/16 ACRA proposals and public health grant allocations for 2017/18.