News that the council’s public health team will receive a below-inflation increase of 0.7% core funding has been met with anger by the Borough’s Labour councillors.
The Government yesterday (Wednesday) signalled that public health will receive the increase to core funding; in effect a real-terms cut.
Ring-fenced public health funding for 2021/22 has been confirmed as £8,811,576, or the equivalent of £49.85 per head for Bedford Borough.
Pointing out that the impact of Covid-19 will likely be felt for decades, the Labour Group say that enhanced locally-driven Public Health initiatives will be needed to tackle, not only the aftermath of the pandemic but the inequalities that have been highlighted by it.
The portfolio holder for public health & wellbeing, Cllr 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.”
Cllr Jackson said that their local team was making a real difference by tracing contacts and helping people not only to isolate but to access money, food and medical supplies when they need it.
She said: “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 appalling insult to local authority public health teams up and down the country but will make the job of tackling the issues that Covid has either caused, exacerbated or highlighted, so much harder.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston, said that cutting public health budgets after the biggest public health crisis in a century was, “not just inexplicable but dangerous in defence terms.”
“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.”
However, Cllr Graeme Coombes, leader of Bedford Borough Conservatives, defended the amount adding it was now for the council to use the money appropriately.
“Bedford Borough is being given nearly £100k in extra funding for 2021/22 taking the total grant from Central Government to £8.9m,” he said.
“This is over and above additional money that has been given by Government for the Council to address health-related matters such as rough sleeping and the £450k support for vulnerable adults.
“It fully recognises the key role of Local Government in delivering public health services locally and the high priority we place on good public health.
“It is now up to Bedford 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.”
- Update: This article was updated on 18 March 2021 to add a comment from Cllr Graeme Coombes. For balance, we asked Cllr Coombes for comment but he was unable to respond in time for the article’s publication, but we are happy to add his comment now.