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Local councillors 'blocked' from helping with health

Local councillors 'blocked' from helping with health

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Local councillors expressed outrage at their lack of power to make positive changes in public health, claiming they are “blocked” by the government.

Councillors from Leeds, Bromley, Cornwall and a representative of Newham’s Health and Wellbeing Board (HWB) said legal blocks from the Department of Health (DH) stop them from making “the right decisions”.

“We would love to have the power to regulate fast food outlets, we would love to have the power to regulate money lenders, and we would love to have the power to regulate betting shops,” said Clive Furness, Newham HWB health and commissioning executive.

Newham is currently in court for refusing to license a betting shop, with the prospect of paying out £80,000 in costs if they lose.

At the NICE Conference today (14 May 2013), Furness explained that although that type of shop does not have a direct effect on health they contribute to the health and wellbeing of the population.

He said: “It makes a difference through the poverty and the stress of local families face and to anti-social behaviour on the street. If we had much clearer planning powers, that can only be done by Westminster, some of the things we identify as key issues would be much easier to face.”

And Carolyn Rule, Cornwall council’s member for health, wellbeing and young people agrees.

“I think there has to be some risk taking now. We’re going to have to push the boat a little bit and say, ‘I’m sorry, this is what’s right for our people, this is what we want to do.’

“We can’t let central government tell us what we can’t do – we have to find a way, and that’s the challenge.”

John Illingworth from Leeds City Council said: “Our block is a legal block by central government its agencies. That’s what’s holding the show up in difficult areas.

“It is easy to make the right decisions where there are no constraints, but it becomes difficult if someone is threatening you with substantial costs if you try to do the right thing.”

The Department of Health has yet to comment.

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