England-wide survey finds strong evidence of collaboration between public health and transport teams in local government

Person cycling alongside a bus

- Levels of collaboration have improved following public health’s ‘return’ to local government in April 2013 -

An England-wide survey of Directors of Public Health (DsPH) commissioned by pteg has found strong evidence that public health and transport teams are working more closely together since public health teams moved into top-tier local authorities in April 2013. Conducted by public health and transport expert Dr Adrian Davis, the survey and follow-up case studies sought to explore the extent of collaboration since the move as well as identify examples of good practice and any barriers to joint working. The findings have been published in a new report, ‘A Healthy Relationship: Public health and transport collaboration in local government.’

Transport is among the key issues determining whether or not a person leads a healthy lifestyle – it influences their level of physical activity; risk of exposure to injury and to harmful emissions; social support network; quality of life; and access to healthcare. April 2013 saw public health ‘return’ to local government (where it sat until 1974) and it was hoped that the move would promote more local collaboration with other complementary sectors, including transport.

The majority of DsPH responding to the survey said that there had been an improvement in the extent of their team’s collaboration with transport planning colleagues since the transfer. Where ‘1’ is no collaboration and ‘5’ is high levels of collaboration, prior to public health’s return to local government, 15% of respondents rated collaboration as ‘4’ or ‘5’, compared to 61% after the move. Progress was found to be particularly strong in places that had previously experienced the lowest levels of collaboration.

Other key research findings include:

  • Most DsPH give a medium to high priority to the health impacts of road transport in their work programme with active travel and air quality particularly high on the agenda.
  • Almost all DsPH said that their teams had had the opportunity to comment on, influence or contribute to local transport plans, with a significant number reporting that the level of engagement was towards the upper end of the scale.
  • The majority of DsPH reported that they had participated in jointly funded projects and data sharing activity with transport colleagues. Embedded or co-located roles and joint training between the two sectors were rarer but by no means unheard of.

DsPH identified a number of barriers to further joint working including lack of funding; the perceived cultural dominance of the car and associated local political positions; and differing evidence standards, however, there were also numerous examples of good practice.

The report explores a number of these in-depth and includes detailed collaboration case studies from Leeds and Bradford; Dudley; Bristol; London; Cambridgeshire; and Wiltshire. Examples include joint working on bids for active travel funding; the embedding of a public health specialist within Transport for London; and agreeing shared priorities through a transport and health Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.

Geoff Inskip, lead Director General for Integration at pteg said:

‘The findings of this research confirm that transport and public health teams share complementary work programmes and priorities, from getting more people walking and cycling to protecting communities from harmful emissions. The transfer of public health teams into local government has demonstrably increased the opportunity for the two sectors to make common cause by enabling them to work more collaboratively.

‘The priority must now be to learn from the emerging examples of good practice highlighted in this report in order to draw the two sectors still closer together, build on the appetite of both sides to overcome any remaining barriers and pursue our shared goals for transforming the way people travel.’


For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 2517204 / 0781 804 1485