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Improving the public’s health: A resource for local authorities

Local authorities have been given renewed responsibility for public health as part of the government’s 2012 health and social care reforms. While this is a welcome move, there are as yet few resources to help local authority officers and teams identify ‘what works’ in improving public health and reducing health inequalities. How, then, can they decide which areas to prioritise, and through which interventions?

In due course, key bodies such as Public Health England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), academic institutions, and peer learning through the Local Government Association (LGA) and others will provide systematic guidance and support to assist local authorities to fulfil their public health role. In the meantime, this resource pulls together evidence from successful interventions across key local authority functions about ‘what works’ for improving health and reducing health inequalities. It is mainly aimed at local authority officers whose everyday activities and responsibilities affect the health of the local population, to help them navigate the wide range of resources, toolkits and case studies that are available. But it will also be of interest to local councillors and communities as they become more engaged in local public health issues and be useful for directors of public health and their teams, in conversations with local government officers.

Given that local authority functions can influence public health in many complex and inter-related ways, we have had to be selective. We therefore focus on practical actions that local authority officers and teams can take in these nine key areas:

  • the best start in life
  • healthy schools and pupils
  • helping people find good jobs and stay in work
  • active and safe travel
  • warmer and safer homes
  • access to green and open spaces and the role of leisure services
  • strong communities, wellbeing and resilience
  • public protection and regulatory services (including takeaway/fast food, air pollution, and fire safety)
  • health and spatial planning.

For each function, we explain why it is important for public health, giving key facts and figures and presenting evidence-based information on what local authority officers and teams can do in their everyday work to improve public health and reduce health inequalities. We present the business case for intervention, and signpost the reader to other evidence, tools and case studies to find out more. We conclude with a section on making difficult choices and prioritising evidence-based actions that improve public health and introduce a simple ‘ready reckoner’ tool.