The Treasury’s reluctance to commit to the future of the Outbreak Control Fund (Comf) has raised concerns about future financial support for boards managing Covid outbreaks.
The emergence of the failure to commit to another year of Comf funding despite officials from other departments seeking to clarify the matter coincided with the revelation that the UK Health Security Agency – one of the two main bodies successors to Public Health England – also not received a budget for next year from the Treasury.
Some councils are known to have already spent their Comf allocations for 2021-2022 – which totaled £ 400million across the industry – and there are growing concerns that contact tracing staff are leaving their posts without more certainty.
Other local authorities who expect to have unspent Comf at the end of this fiscal year wish to know if they will be authorized to renew it for use next year.
The Department of Upgrading, Housing and Communities hosted a ministerial webinar on December 10 in which Julia Sweeney, its director of local government and communities, said many council representatives on the call had asked questions about the future of Comf funding, which she said “matters”. a lot. ”“ Boards need to reassure their local partnerships and plan for the appropriate fundraising investments in community partnerships for the next year, ”she said.
Tony McArdle, Director of Local Engagement and Response at the UK Health Security Agency, explained how the agency has been in “regular contact” with the Treasury on the Comf report and whether a fund will be set up to next year.
Although the DLUHC requested a Comf allocation next year in its spending review offer, the Treasury has not confirmed that it was successful, McArdle said.
“I understand the frustrations very well,” he said. “I have received a number of them from several colleagues [in local government] who want to know the answer, almost whatever the answer, so you can plan ahead. So I think the concern is well understood.
“We are in the hands of the conversations with the Treasury. [Spending review] conversations are not easy and UKHSA has yet to settle its own budget with [them] for next year… We know that you have staff, many of whom have contracts that will expire, and you need to be able to give some certainty as to your ability to deliver the services for which those staff are responsible. “
Mr McArdle also sought to assure the boards that “colleagues from the UKHSA, the broader Department of Health and Welfare and I know colleagues from [DLUHC] are doing their best to find a solution to this problem “.
“So we know the problems, I said I was hoping to get [a decision] before Christmas. I can have as much hope as I want, can’t I? You really want the answer, but we know it, we fully understand it.
LGC has requested a response from the Treasury.