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We are a cross-party, member-led network, providing a single voice for our member councils

Public health role of district councils needs to be better rewarded, says DCN

Published: 7 February 2019
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District councils need to be better rewarded for their essential and effective role in public health which is saving millions of pounds for primary health services, the DCN urged today.

As the prevention authorities, district councils are improving public health outcomes by reducing demand for social care and acute health services, which is enabling people to live happier, healthier and independent lives for longer.

The influential role and significant contribution of Districts in improving public health outcomes is highlighted in a new report launched at DCN’s annual conference today.

“Shaping healthy places: exploring the district role in health”, published by the DCN in collaboration with the Local Government Association, details innovative prevention initiatives by district councils to improves people’s lives and save long-term costs to the public purse.

Districts are providers of key services which have a direct impact on the social determinants of health, such as housing, planning, leisure, recreation and environmental health.

Their key role ranges from developing affordable housing, undertaking home adaptations and reducing homelessness, to providing cycle lanes and imposing restrictions on unhealthy food outlets. Districts are not only making healthier places to live but are reducing the burden on other parts of the public sector.

The 2016/17 statistics show that district councils prevented or relieved more than 66,000 homelessness cases – nearly a third of England’s total – which could potentially save the NHS £85 million in annual costs.

Parks provide £34 billion of health and wellbeing benefits, saving the NHS £111 million a year through prevented GP visits.

Furthermore, every £1 spent on handyman services saves £7.50 for the NHS. Similarly, every £1 spent on home adaptations saves the health service £108 in prevented falls over 10 years.

For this “prevention is better than cure” reason, and to address significant funding challenges, the DCN is calling for district councils to be allowed to levy a 3 per cent “prevention precept” on council tax which could raise £42 million a year in 2019/20 and deliver significant long-term savings many times that amount for the NHS and social care authorities.

Government should also commit to establishing a new health prevention fund which Districts, alongside other councils and public bodies, can bid for to support projects that deliver preventative services and can reduce rising costs to adult social care.

District councils are calling on the Government to use the forthcoming spending review to properly fund local government to maximise their ability to invest in prevention and further improve the population’s health.

Cllr Isobel Darby, DCN Lead for Quality of Life, said:

“District councils, despite not receiving any direct public health funding, are having a huge impact on improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

“The crucial prevention role of Districts is reducing long-term costs to health and adult social care services by reducing hospital admissions and ensuring people stay well in their communities for longer.

“In order to create a sustainable health and social care system, it is more important than ever to fully engage with district councils who are able to solve problems rather than simply manage caseloads. Their integral role in public health needs to be better recognised and rewarded.

“With further support for their cost-effective prevention work, Districts, which are on the frontline of communities, can achieve even more to deliver better lives and stronger economies.”

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

 “Preventative strategies help people live healthier lives for longer, by reducing the long-term illnesses and chronic conditions that worsen their quality of life.

“The current social care and health system is unsustainable and will buckle under the weight of demand unless we urgently re-engineer our services to promote healthy choices, protect health, prevent sickness and intervene early to minimise the need for costly social care and hospital treatment.

“Councils are tackling persistent problems like childhood obesity, mental illness, substance misuse, sexually transmitted infections and the health impact of loneliness, as well as addressing some of the serious health inequalities that still exist across the country.

“But to maximise this prevention vision and support the NHS even more effectively, government needs to ensure that councils’ prevention work is adequately funded by reversing the £700 million in reductions to councils’ public health grants.”



  • Copies of “Shaping healthy places: exploring the district role in health” are available on request.
  • The Kings’ Fund estimates that by adapting 100,000 homes to meet the needs of older people, districts could save the NHS £69 for every pound spent; improving 100,000 homes to protect older people from the cold weather districts could save the NHS £34.19 for every £1 pound spent.
  • Fields in Trust report, Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces, shows the economic valuation of parks and green spaces in the UK as well as valuing improvements in health and wellbeing associated with their frequent use.
  • DCN’s “Transformation in localities toolkit” (page 89) outlines the health benefits and costs savings that can be made through prevention work by district councils
  • DCN’s annual conference is taking place at the Chesford Grange, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2LD from 7-8 February.


CONTACT: DCN media office, 020 7664 3333

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