Developing Public Health with County and District Councils

“A simple methodology to unlock possibilities and energy, when people are struggling with budgetary doom and gloom’’

by Cllr Michael Bamford and Cllr Diana Kersley

A few months ago, we wrote about the pilot between Suffolk County Council, Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils and the Suffolk Public Health team. We are delighted to provide an update on this very successful project, which offers a framework for other two tier areas.

Public Health in Suffolk made an early transfer to the County Council. Embedding Public Health in Local Government gave an opportunity to achieve greater collaboration and coordinate focus on health and wellbeing. It also allowed time to understand different contributions, including those of the District Councils.

We wanted to build a framework to make the most of what each organisation had to offer and reduce inequalities in health and wellbeing. Like all public services, the change came at a time when the service was also coping with significant reductions in capacity; finding a way to help communities do more for themselves

LeaderShape provided an essential programme of workshops, master classes and facilitated action learning. This led to an Appreciative Inquiry approach to build Asset Profiles of the pilot areas, which were selected according to levels of deprivation and health inequality data from the Public Health Team.

The ‘Asset Profiles’ showed what positive attributes were already present in the community (physical, voluntary groups etc) which could help achieve strategic and local priorities set out in Health and Wellbeing plans.   Recognising existing strengths and helping communities unlock potential let to partnership work with communities, in areas they identified as meaningful.  Collaboration with voluntary groups was key; working with them, to build on what they already do.

For example: One group was looking at aging well, preventing trips and falls through exercise. They re-branded themselves to ‘’staying connected and keeping active,’’ which felt more meaningful and emphasised community relationships. This group’s approach was based on the successful “POPs” (Partnership with Older People) model promoted by Age UK which emphasises working with people to identify what they already do successfully; it then looks at how the statutory sector can better support this.

Public Health is source of specialist information and inter-organisational working. Districts have in-depth understanding of local communities as well as knowing the wide range of initiatives supported by county councils services. The project allowed a far greater appreciation of the role of each partner.

A framework for future joint work now exists – a partnership agreement for Public Health, the County and District Councils, forming the basis of a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’ Along the way lessons were learnt:

  • All three partners have very different cultures but, with a willingness to cooperate,  coordinated by the PH team, these can become complimentary rather than competitive.
  • A coordinated approach building on what communities are already doing gains greater participation than ‘yet another new initiative’. 
  • Effective leadership is vital, (political and office,r) giving freedom to work collaboratively. It is essential to step back and let communities influence the solutions they want.
  • This is an important investment, as it enables sustainable working within current financial constraints.

 One of those taking part said:

“It opened my eyes to a new way of working within the new landscape for Public Health’’ 

This project really helped see Councillors see the value that members can play; utilising their local knowledge and working together has been rewarding and refreshing.

For copies of the partnership document and full reports on the project, please email LeaderShape’s Janice Steed by emailing: jsteed@leadershape.biz

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