Eric Pickles lunges for slice of the health budget

As the battle for a share of the spending round spoils escalates, other departments are pressing ahead with attempts to seize a slice of the protected health budget.

The FT understands that Eric Pickles, local government secretary, is seeking to redefine some housing programmes as health spending. (Just as Philip Hammond and others have sought to squeeze under the “electrified” ringfence.)

These are the Decent Homes fund, which is focused on improving the condition of homes for social housing tenants and vulnerable households in the private sector in England, and the Disabled Facilities Grant which pays for changes to housing to meet the needs of disabled people.

He is also seeking a greater contribution from the health and education departments to the Troubled Families Programme on the grounds that tackling dysfunctional families, where drug or alcohol addiction is often an issue, may eventually reduce pressure on the health budget.

In an interview with the FT this week, Mr Hunt rejected the idea that the NHS was “lucky” to have had its budget ringfenced against inflation, pointing out that demand for its services was rising by four per cent a year.

The department’s position was “well understood across government,” Mr Hunt insisted. However Mr Pickles is thought to be making headway in his efforts to divert £2.5bn from the health department to defray the burden on local authorities of providing social care.

In another development, the heads of all the medical schools in England have stepped up pressure on George Osborne, chancellor, to resist attempts by the business department to shift medical education funding and research to the health department.

In a letter to Mr Osborne, seen by the FT, Tony Weetman, who chairs the group, says: “The Medical Schools Council cannot stress strongly enough that transfer of budget responsibility for medical education and research to DH would pose a significant threat to the UK’s leading position in health research and education.” The arguments around education staying with BIS applied equally to the suggested transfer of Medical Research Council funding to the NHS-run National Institute for Health Research, Prof Weetman added.