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"Urgent funds required" to safeguard environmental health services

Councils in England will be short of almost £3 billion needed just to maintain services over the next two years
21 September 2023 , Steve Smethurst

CIEH calls for government to “urgently” make funds available to prevent avoidable illnesses and death which, in turn, saves the NHS “billions annually”

More than 20 councils are at risk of bankruptcy, according to members of a Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities (Sigoma) – a collective of 47 urban councils. The Sigoma said that many authorities have ‘nothing left’.

Britain’s local government network has seen several financial collapses in the past two years, including Slough, Croydon, Thurrock and Woking. In 2021/22, Woking issued a Section 114 notice in June with debts of 146.4 times its spending power. (Section 114 indicates that the council's forecast income is insufficient to meet its forecast expenditure for the next year.)

Cllr Shaun Davies, Chair of the Local Government Association (LGA), said that councils in England face a funding gap of almost £3 billion over the next two years just to keep services standing still.

He said: “Councils’ ability to mitigate these stark pressures are being continuously hampered by one-year funding settlements, one-off funding pots and uncertainty due to repeated delays to funding reforms.

“The government needs to come up with a long-term plan that includes greater funding certainty through multi-year settlements and more clarity on financial reform so they can plan effectively.”

Mike Short, Head of Local Government, UNISON said that councils across the country are “really struggling”. He said, “Those that go down the Section 114 route are forced to make severe cuts, which are a disaster for local communities.” 

Somayya Yaqub, Head of Corporate Health and Safety, London Borough of Ealing, said that all services are being asked to make savings irrespective of whether they are already operating on tight budgets. “Services are being stripped to statutory minimums and non-essential spending is being abolished. Environmental health services have to cancel overtime, reduce or remove of out of hours services and have roles filled with less experienced staff.

“Without proper funding we may no longer have environmental health services as we knew them and won’t be able to meet the needs of our servants,” said Yaqub.

“Environmental health within local authorities is already under-resourced, under strain and struggling to enforce public health protection.”

Louise Hosking, Executive Director of Environmental Health at CIEH said it was ‘crucial’ to start looking at the economic value health protection brings.

She said: “Environmental health within local authorities is already under-resourced, under strain and struggling to enforce public health protection.

“This work is crucial in ensuring public health is protected, the food we eat is safe, the most vulnerable in our society can live in decent housing, air, water and land pollution is regulated and people can work in places which are not going to cause them harm.

“At a time when NHS resources are also under pressure, we are calling for the government to urgently make funds available to prevent avoidable illnesses and death which in turn saves the NHS billions annually.”

A government spokesperson said councils are “ultimately responsible for the management of their own finances”. However, they added: “We recognise all councils are facing pressures and, as well as making it a priority to halve inflation, we have introduced a one-off funding guarantee to ensure that every council sees at least a 3% increase in core spending power before any local decisions on council tax rates.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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